Harriette Casey and Anna Hubert review By The Book at the Bike Shed Theatre on January 23rd as part of the From Devon with Love Festival.
On going to see a one-woman-show at the Bike Shed Theatre, we weren’t sure what to expect, with memories of the F.R.I.E.N.D.S one-women show entitled “Why don’t you like me: a bitter women’s journey through life” springing to mind. However, Vicki Brown’s quirky, energetic performance could not have been any more different.
Vicki’s satirical take on self-help therapy and following advice “by the book”, saw her preparing for reading with various necessities – a scarf, a flask of tea, some ‘supportive family members’ and some chocolate Hobnobs – as well as advising the audience on truth telling, demonstrating with her own Q and A session in which the audience were encouraged to ask whatever they wanted, prompting one young audience member to ask for a biscuit. Her engaging performance was successful in keeping the audience’s focus, as she including skits of observational comedy – pointing out the dipping power of said chocolate Hobnobs.
Arguably the most impressive aspect of Viki’s performance was her ability to build a rapport with the audience. The intimacy of a small theatre can be intimidating for those who prefer to avoid the theatricalities of audience participation. However, it was clear that this would not be realised when Vikki told us that ‘there is going to be a Disco Scene’ and that we would all participate, ‘whether we liked it or not.’ There was a feeling of apprehension and we contemplated what this would entail. Sorry to those who prefer their coordination, or lack of, not to be exhibited. This being said, when our moment did arrive, there was not one member of the audience, whether they were eight or eighty-eighty who did not seem to be enjoying busting out some of ‘Exeter’s classic dance moves.’
That was until the music was cut, the lights lowered to reveal Vikki no longer ecstatically leading us, but instead frozen in the spotlight. For the first time to us seeming vulnerable. This silence was short lived however, broken by the crackling of static as it was projected onto Vicki’s body, amercing her almost completely, symbolic of the way depression can take over an individual’s life. When the projection stopped, Vicki was left in the darkness for a few moments, her white silhouette eerie against the backdrop.
Vicki Browne is a drama graduate student from the University of Exeter, her and her partner Jak Ifan Moore (also a graduate from the Uni) have been making performances together since 2011, before starting their own theatre company Joint Venture in 2013. ‘We make theatre and performance that is ‘thought provoking’ and tackles topical contemporary issues head on. Our work is visual, investigative and humorous. We like to play with theatrical form and the live event.’
From watching By The Book it is clear to see all of these elements at play. Drawing from personal experience, the play created a surreal blurring between reality and drama, in a refreshingly raw and honest performance. We will certainly be keeping an eye out for their next venture.
Harriette Casey and Anna Hubert
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