Spilled Milk are back with a double bill of theatre. Two female led pieces that take on life, love and all its unpredictability.
Street- by Susan Monkton
Performed by Ella Maxwell
Directed by Becca Lidston
This work in progress from Susan Monkton shows a strong voice and a real promise of a piece of interesting theatre. Performed with humour and vulnerability by Ella Maxwell, who veers between the early amusing escapades of a young woman on a night out, through to the range of emotions she experiences when the stuff of worse nightmares begins.
Monkton has a real ear for ‘Cardiff’ despite not being a native. Her descriptions, and Laura’s speech patterns are incredibly familiar- and hilarious. Her detailed descriptions of Cardiff give a sense of grounding to the play, that makes the darker turn of the second half really chilling. The level of detail in our journey through a night out with Laura, through to what happens at the end of City Road take in the details of Cardiff exceptionally. It becomes chillingly real for anyone who knows the city, but also a level of detail that elevates the writing.
Monkton writes with a real humour and heart. Her twenty-something Laura, and her experiences on a night out are familiar and hilarious. She’s relatable and recognisable, and that is key as the piece shifts towards its more serious point. In encountering what later appears to be some kind of terror attack, Laura ends up questioning what good and bad mean, and where she falls on that scale. She tries her best but also runs away. In focusing in on one ‘normal’ woman’s experience the piece raises a lot of interesting questions about how we respond versus how we think, or want to respond. And where we and others value us on the scale of good, bad and ‘hero’. In using the visual painting of the streets of Cardiff Monkton really brings home the ‘but it would never happen here right?’ question and the related ‘but what would I do?’ question.
It’s still a work in progress, so not without some elements that could be ironed out. The introduction of a second voice in form of voice- over is jarring, and interrupts the flow of Maxwell’s excellent performance. And while the confusion in the middle section is integral to us feeling what Laura does, at present it’s a bit too confusing and takes a bit too long to give any answers about what is going on.
All these are logistical elements that will work themselves out in the development. The key is the strong voice of the piece, and a work with something to say.
Izzy’s Manifestos- Kevin Jones
Performed by Angharad Berrow
Directed by Luke Hereford
In the opening Izzy admits that manifestos don’t always work. That sometimes you have to throw them away and start again. She does this a lot through Kevin Jones’ piece. In a literal sense as well as figuratively, and gives a lesson in best laid plans, and distraction as well as just trying to get from A to B with or without a plan.
Angharad Berrow bounds onto the stage, blazer on addressing the crowd and explains her system of manifestos. She starts with simple things; what she wanted to do when she was younger. Answer: everything. She then moves us through school, University, first loves, first disappointments, first love, loss and grief. Berrow gives a brilliantly engaged performance, balancing well the ‘Manifesto’ side in which she delivers her theories, with the storytelling and emotional core of Jones’ piece. She is a natural comic and her engagement with the audience, playing off their responses, and committing to the delivery of the manifestos is as hilarious as it is engaging. Berrows/Izzy should give school careers talks, we’d all listen then!
Luke Hereford directs the piece with energy and humour. It’s a Ted talk on a real budget (and with tech issues, as Berrow was quick to improvise around). But the direction also fits Izzy. She uses her flip chart and drawings (some pre-drawn some done live, of varying quality which reflects her declaration she can’t draw or paint). She fills the stage slowly with crumpled paper, the debris of failed manifestos. Of abandoned plans. It feels like a messy life adding up. Hereford finds the silly irreverence in Jones’ writing and gives it a lightness and energy that lets the emotional points hit home.
Jones takes us through Izzy’s life from school to post-University, through those difficult and formative years when manifesto or plan often feel quite redundant. But Izzy is trying her best. She doesn’t always get it right (fairly often in fact). She’s not always playing by the rules- from stealing someone’s art portfolio to get into Art School, to binning an Ipad in an act of frustration and revenge. It’s told with humour, and wry look at how messy life can get in those years. How confusing it is and how actually having a manifesto and sticking to it sounds like a great idea…if only it worked, or if only the rest of life could stick to it as well.
There’s much in the writing to relate to. From the ‘stick a pin in a map’ approach to University and post school life. To then deciding you hate your Uni flatmate on sight. To the monotony of a student night out (anyone who specifically experienced Nottingham nights out will relate). To the utter idiots you spend time with during those years. To the boyfriends. To the longing for something more than life offers, and the fear of being trapped in whatever you fall into after Uni. It’s all fairly simple, fairly universal but Jones tells it with such humorous flair, Izzy is the extremes of us all- trying to liven up a lunch hour by dressing as a Nun, desperate to become a genius and final becomes one as a Tax Administrator. Despite her planning she lives life at the extremes and it’s extremely relatable.
But Jones also writes with real heart, and the humour belies the darker emotional core. Izzy’s Manifestos cover a need, a want to yes be something more, be everything in fact. But also to control the uncontrollable in life. We get the sense of her seeking, her longing fro something that all the plans in the world cannot make happen. It’s at once that period of life where everything is in flux, but also feels like everything is being controlled.
It’s the final moments you see the core that Jones has run through Izzy’s life. We hear early on how her Dad asked her what she wanted to be, and she said everything. We saw the perfect moment of perfect family life dancing in the kitchen to 80s tunes. And then they disappear. Her Dad is disappeared from her life far too young. And when her friend says in the closing ‘It’s not my fault your Dad is dead’ it’s at once a red hot poker and a chill to the heart. Perhaps it takes a certain streak of recognition for the full effect, which is devastating. But it’s an emotive and honest comment on how all the planning in the world can’t fix some things.
Until Friday 26th October, AJ’s Coffee House, City Road, Cardiff