Review by Thomas Gregory
In the back of a cocktail bar in Richmond, three dozen patrons are on fold-out seats, lounges, and bar stools to watch three original plays compiled into one intimate night called “Softly, Softly.” Under the direction of Ellen O’Connor, and performed by six local actors, each brings with them laughs and reflection, as they explore what it means to have truly human relationships, and what it feels like to not.
“Flamenco Vampires & Outlaw Space Cowboys” by Asha Cornelia Cluer, offers everything you would hope from such a title and more. Three dancers in a seedy saloon, thousands of years into the future, are hiding from the law because they are vampires. Lisping through prosthetic teeth, they wonder if they can trust a newcomer, an old stand-up comedian who hints at knowing their secret. Being the predator and the prey makes for unusual ethical issues and they know what it is like to feel alone.
From the sound and light spectacular that is the opening flamenco dance, to the use of now-meaning-filled masks and colourful toy guns, each visual moment is one to keep you paying attention. Because under those masks are words that present the same worries we all experience when taking on new relationships, talking with casual intimacy, and crying out from betrayal.
“Put To Sea”, by Tilly Lunken, is a far more contemporary tale of two young internet influencers who make the reckless decision to steal a boat and film themselves. Soon lost, and unwatched, they must face how they really feel about fame, the internet, and each other. The chemistry between the actors, Lucy Clough and Marli van der Bijl, drives a script that you could believe was transcribed from a real-life online stream.
While the theatre space may not have been as suitable for a play performed mostly on the ground, the dialogue between the women being as physical as it is verbal, the audience is drawn in close to both the external and internal struggles of these young artists as they engage in well-timed quips and moments of cute physical humour.
To explore the struggles of fame through the question of “how does a woman pee off the side of a boat?” brings laughter to the audience. When one character opens up about the loneliness of being watched by thousands, there is quiet. When the two teenagers present a united front against the unforgiving sea through the medium of a sea shanty...well, that is not an experience to be missed. As the chorus of actors on the side of the stage joins in, the whole room is awash with the fears and hopes of the characters who sing, not for any internet audience, but “just for us… and the sea.”
“The Names Department”, was written by the night’s director themself. Bridging the gap between the plays just performed, it opens on a realistic focus group engaging in an absurd task to find the name for a new colour of paint. Within minutes, however, the play becomes a tale of abandoned love, expectations of society and the power of wanting more.
It continues to twist and turn as a metatheatrical piece, one so successfully executed as to recall Stoppard or Pirandello. Then, eventually, it shrugs off all that remains to state openly what it truly is - “a revenge script”, which reminds us all the dangers of an artist scorned.
While “Flamenco Vampires” provides a visual feast, and “Put To Sea” a symphony, “The Names Department” offers up meaning in absence. Letting natural pauses sit between lines with patient realism, asking what it means for a character (and person) to be “off-stage”, and wrapping the entire concept of expectation around “the man who never was” allows the audience to reflect not only on this play but on the night itself. Reflect on the pains of relationships, on the pains of their absences, and the fortune held by those of us who experience love in all its forms.
Quiet Roar describes themselves as an “independent, creative producing house bringing you visceral, honest stories of the human heart.” This emphasis on unforgiving honesty has led them to present three incredible stories that speak in their own way to what it means to be alone.
Your last chance to see “Softly, Softly” will be the 27th of April and should not be missed. However, plans for the next series of short performances are already going ahead for July, so keep your ear to the ground.