Toast – Assembly Roxy

Written by Benjamin Storey

Directed by Ryan Alexander Dewar

Here’s a fun game to play: If you had to choose, which would you rather? Eat nothing but pizza forever, or never have a slice again? How about condiments? Ketchup or Mayo? What’s your favourite utensil? How about choosing between 18 months to live or five years. Appears quite a simple choice, right? Written by Benjamin Storey, who also portrays Joe, Toast features the C-word: Cancer. In their second appearance at Assembly Roxy’s Formation Festival, Interabang Productions examines the stress, anguish and yes, even laughs, a young couple face when one faces the reality of terminal cancer.

In an age of scaremongering headlines, genuine medical advice is overwhelmed by clickbait articles. It’s laced throughout the production through the tubs of ‘pro-life’ butter, Facebook articles and even the title – because burnt toast (as we all know) causes cancer. That’s how Joe likes his toast, feeling that you can’t micro-manage everything, to just chase your dreams. Living with his partner Mel (Rachel Flynn), the two of them share a life we can relate to: soon graduating, arguing over TV and coming to grips with life’s shitty curveballs.

Storey’s performance, as well as his writing, is mortal in composition. There is no place here for melodrama. The points of hyper-reaction are the moments in which we would respond this way. It’s an incredibly subtle performance, channelling the stages of anger, depression and denial we all find in grief. Yet, it’s also strikingly funny; you’ll never find yourself laughing so much at mortality again. The production takes around ten minutes to get into its rhythm, but from this point it’s a powerful piece of turmoil, love and – above all – humanity.

Framed against multiple projected backdrops, the lighting does an enormous job in setting the tone. The clean set design too complements Ryan Dewar‘s straight-forward direction. The use of multimedia adds to the drama’s impact; one critical scene where the narrative moves to a live video-feed, where Flynn and Storey share a tender 3am moment, is as compassionate as it is gut-wrenching.

Following on from her creative and performing role in Interabang’s other production, Being Liza, Rachel Flynn is laying all her talents bare. Toast would simply not work without capable leads. The emotional dexterity demanded by Toast is tough, as both leads not only have to convey cancer’s destructive path but the love these two share. In such a short space of time, Flynn bounces off of Storey, heightening his performance while driving her own. Her natural charm effortlessly conveys to the audience why this relationship works. Getting away with the cheesiest of routines, lifting them into reality, both Flynn and Storey have an uncannily rare ability to capture those genuine moments of realness.

It is in the final moments of the production – in a promise made by Mel to Joe – that Flynn’s ability is evident. Albeit a brief and perhaps predictable scene, the direction, the pain and the connection Flynn achieves with the audience is more transparent than any forced moment of empathy. It’s beautiful in how haunting the ending manages to be.

Toast carries weight to it, which isn’t grotesque enough to put people off but maintains a dignity to be proud of. So what would you do, given the choice? It’s one we would never wish to make, especially so young. Interabang Productions seem to be taking bold steps in their outing productions, not shying away from the raw emotion underneath. Given the evident and commendable talent demonstrated by their performers, writers and creatives, there’s surely a promising future ahead for all involved.

Review Originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/toast-2/

Little Boxes and Stolen Futures: Double Bill – Traverse Theatre

Writers: James Beagon and Catherine Expósito

Directors: Ruth Hollyman and Catherine Expósito

Championing youth theatre in Edinburgh for over a decade, Strange Town return to the Traverse Theatre with two modern pieces; Little Boxes and Stolen Futures. Fitting for their anniversary, both productions take a leaping point of ‘future’ but differ vastly in content, narrative and structure. What they do share is a model example of Strange Town’s high standards of creativity.

Written and directed by Catherine Expósito, Little Boxes is a piece exploring the questions and troubles facing the youth today. Fuelling this issue is the very thing we love most, something you’ll likely be reading this on – our phones and social media. Labels, neat and tidy boxes we consign ourselves too. ‘Hierarchy and shite’, the pressure built-up in our own minds can often get too much for people.

Told over a year, two talented performers narrate each month, bringing their own humour, delivery and uniqueness. Despite the short run time, Expósito’s piece manages to develop character quite significantly. Little Boxes covers a variety of diverse topics, from the petty niggles which build into bullying, depression, sexuality and periods (word to the wise lads, they happen – get over yourselves).

In the closing moments, the Little Boxes cast seem ready to take a bow – though a few are missing. They bring flowers, leaving them to rest at the audience’s feet. We suspect the worst for one of the characters. What follows is instead a sucker punch of why Theatre is such an encouraging artform for the young. Creative directors Ruth Hollyman and Steve Small give such a virile slap to the audience to wake them up to the world around them that Little Boxes ending is something very few professional productions could get away with tastefully.

James Beagon’s world-building in Stolen Futures is fascinating. Housing persuasive concepts which, while recognisable from post-apocalyptic novels such as Children of Earth and Lord of the Flies, he stitches together to create something fresh. A key point of interest, which sadly isn’t looked into more is the idea of ‘pasts’ a race of monsters, humans from before the wars and destruction of the earth. These pasts are us. Me and you, not doing our part to prevent disfiguring the future.

An admirable job is done by the performers, many of whom are tremendously talented – especially younger performers Elissa Watson and Kel McNaught. They can’t save a stodgy script though. Where Little Boxesmanages to get across its message clearly, Stolen Futures is shaping up as a two-act production condensed to an hours length. While its themes are important, they are put across in a narrative which needs better pacing. What we can salvage from the multiple tribes, myths and concepts is a harrowing reminder to wake up and hold accountability.

Little Boxes and Stolen Futures offer hope. A hope that finally, this world will recognise the pertinent need to support mental health, especially in youths. Financial support and research are reasonably placed within physical ailments, so too do we need mental and emotional research. Stolen Futures offers a glimmer that if we act now, we could save the future for the present and the future.

More though, they offer hope for the future of Scottish theatre. As funding support and decisions are subject to bureaucratic mercy, the ideas springing forth from writers, producers an onstage talent of Strange Town offers a beacon of pride. Commendable efforts, with the promise of much more to come.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/little-boxes-and-stolen-futures-double-bill-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Information about Strange Town: http://strangetown.org.uk/theatre/

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War

Writers: Jack Nurse and Robbie Gordon

Director: Jack Nurse

We’ve all been down the pub with this motley crew; ‘the weeman’, ‘the radge’, a ‘non-voter’ and of course, ‘the Tory’. For these pals, this is a usual evening in the seaside town of Prestonpans. They do what all friends do; drink, banter, swear and snipe at one another. They complain about the state of the country, blaming one another’s political alliances or lack thereof. A hallowed reminder of the past, an all too forgotten war, draws them to hear of a mighty similar group of men from their companion Ellen.

In 1936, across Scotland, a collection of 549 men, some entirely different in their religion, class, ideology, found one common purpose: Equality and Freedom, no matter the nation. They would make for Spain and form the Scottish regiment of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

Wholly intimate, the production thrives on a smaller stage. The aggressive fire in the boys’ eyes has to be seen up close, any further and we would lose the quivers of fear in these young men. Jack Nurse’s direction puts the action as close to the audience as possible. Tables, chairs and crates which have previously made up the bar become barricades. Coasters are passports, and the lads take up arms with pool cues to make for inventive prop usage.

549: Scots of the Spanish Civil War is a production reliant on solid performers. It requires a connection, which Wonder Fools easily achieve. All of our performers portray two characters, their modern selves and a past counterpart. Such as Josh Whitelaw’s Jock, his modern self an irritated young man who cares for his mother. His past reflection, a man who strives for fresh air but has explosive bursts of repressed rage. Whitelaw gives a gut-wrenching performance, as do Robbie Gordon and Rebekah Lumsden.

As Ellen, barkeep and partial narrator, Lumsden has the task of setting our story in motion. Establishing the narrative well, her manner of delivery is humorous and earthy. She plays off the lads incredibly, going between friend, mother-figure and source of blunt honesty. Being at her wits end with Jimmy (Nicholas Ralph), she bridges the gaps in character development, so it doesn’t feel forced.

Lyrics and storytelling chain this production to memories, keeping it from being a ghost story. The song components offer a feeling of camaraderie. The rendition of a miners tune, sung in the round is breath-taking, but all the more haunting as we know learn fates.

While the majority of the scripting feels natural, there are a few situations in which they exaggerate for comedic effect. They stray just a tad too far from believable to dramatic. The only other hitch is one of pacing, Nurse and Robbie Gordon’s script could have been ten minutes shorter or extended into a Two Act production. There’s a split – for the history buffs, there’s a glossing over of the complexities of Spain’s Republic, for a general theatre-going audience what politics we cover is slows momentum.

549: Scots of The Spanish Civil War is not only a reminder of the past, but it’s also a staunch punch to the gut that the issues we suffer today are not dissimilar to previous generations. That despite differences from vocal minorities, now more than ever, the bad blood between young and old shouldn’t sour. That quite often we work for the same goals, especially in the fight of freedom, equality and our European neighbours.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/549-scots-of-the-spanish-civil-war-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Production touring: http://www.wonderfools.org/549

Image contribution: Mihaela Bodlovic