Carmen Paddock reviews two shows from the annual From Devon With Love festival
The Bike Shed Theatre’s annual From Devon With Love festival, showcasing up and coming South West theatrical talent, runs for three weeks every January. The nights are usually double acts, as each piece tends to clock in at under an hour. On Monday 19th January the programme’s offerings were plays: Dad and Never Give Up, Never Give In. The two works were similar only in the fact that they were written, directed, and performed by amateur local theatre makers; the tones, topics, and levels of refinement were strikingly different.
First year drama student Amy Blakelock wrote, directed, and co-starred in this tremendously powerful short drama, following a mother and daughter fleeing a mysterious husband/father figure. ‘Dad’ only appeared at first in conversations between the two, and it was clear mother and daughter remembered him very differently. The daughter’s fantasy conversations with ‘Dad’ are soon contrasted to his actual appearance, and suffice to say casting two separate actors for the two separate ‘Dad’s was an inspired choice! A skilful, elegant script gives the audience just enough information to help them follow the characters and event but not enough that they can sit easily in their chairs. The piece was evocative of a Tennessee Williams play with its desperate dreams, broken relationships, and gritty violence bubbling under the surface – occasionally breaking through to irrevocably shatter any illusions of happiness and stability to which the characters had clung. The four actors gave stunning, truthful performances – all looked exhausted after its mere forty-five minutes of vulnerabilit. Dad belongs in a professional venue, and one hopes that Blakelock and her team have an illustrious career in the theatre ahead of them.
***** five stars
Never Give Up, Never Give In
Alas, the second half of the evening was nowhere near as memorable as the first. The story had promise – a tough-as-nails boxing coach takes on a tough-as-nails young woman on probation who has a drive to succeed and an unparalleled work ethic. But on her journey up through the boxing ranks, the (rather weak) script’s focus is too much on the events and not on the characters’ growth and development in relation to them. Consequently the audience was not invested in their triumphs and setbacks, even if the boxing rounds were impressively trained and choreographed. The actors did their best with what they were given (notably third year drama student Lea Hummerstone as Jazz, who fully committed to the boxer’s fierce yet precise physicality), and the script had some doses of local humour, but on the whole the piece felt flat and stale. From Devon With Love, however, is a showcase for works in progress, and this play has potential to turn into a truly affecting human drama.
** two stars
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