[Press tickets provided in exchange for a review]
You know how much I love local theatre. I’m a firm believer that the capital is not necessarily the place to be to see the Next Big Thing or to witness truly creative work. We are so lucky, in the UK’s cities, to have local performers, writers and directors offering up wonderful work for us to watch on our doorsteps.
When Nuffield Southampton Theatres (NST) announced a season celebrating Southampton- and Hampshire-based theatre and performance, I knew I’d want to go along and experience as many shows as possible.
Make It SO 2020 (10-29 February) saw 19 locally-created, work-in-progress shows being performed and showcased over three weeks in NST’s Studio space. The festival – in its second year! – was a chance for actors and creators to get feedback on performances and gain much-needed reactions, while getting their names out to new audiences.
Of course, with a full-time job and other responsibilities taking up my time, I wasn’t able to see all of the pieces on offer. However, I managed to see a total of nine shows over the period of time – which I think is pretty good!
I’ve decided to write a post featuring mini-reviews of each piece I was able to see.
Keep your eyes peeled for many of these shows making more appearances – and I’d urge you to watch out for future events like this. Come and support your local art scene!
My Soulmate’s Husband’s Soulmate
Do you believe in soulmates? What if humans began to be biologically and physically drawn to their other halves? What would it mean for existing couples?
My Soulmate’s Husband’s Soulmate explores these very questions. One day, Erin’s soulmate appears on her doorstep after succumbing to ‘The Pull’. What follows is a fascinating exploration of relationships, highlighting the humanness of the way we meet our partners, and asking us to think a little deeper about dating and love.
This is a very well written piece that feels natural and realistic. It reminds me a lot of The Power, where a new physical phenomenon turns society upside down. It’s funny, and human, and pulls you in. The cast is down-to-earth and relatable too, and there are some lovely moments that offer windows into otherwise private, domestic lives.
Bocanada Creación Artística
This theatrical dance production examines immigration through movement and strong imagery. Using projections, minimal props and music, as well as physicality and simple dance, the show portrays a journey to the border and highlights the universal experience of migration, and how it transcends time, asking us to question how much has really changed over the last century. It was a little unusual, with some quirky scenes, but it was great to see such a complex and prevalent subject being shared in a different format, and I enjoyed it much more than I expected!
The Fasting Girl
A story about a young woman and her hunger strike, The Fasting Girl seems determined to cram as many important – and sometimes taboo – subjects into the script as possible. It covers everything from social media and anorexia to abortion and counselling in around 45-60 minutes. While the script-in-hand storytelling is impressive for a cast of just three, some of the ways in which it treats these topics are a little questionable, generalising some areas that, in my opinion, require more sensitivity or trivialising quite complex topics. However, the ideas are interesting and it certainly has potential.
The acting is very good, and I particularly like the way this production draws on history, creating a modern tale that builds on the theme of starving women in the past; from the suffragette hunger strikes, to anorexia as vampirism in victorian literature.
Lewd Women and Female Felons
It’s the history and the folk songs that draw me to Lewd Women and Female Felons. This feminist performance shares the story of real women imprisoned in Winchester and the crimes they allegedly committed. The singing is rustic and enchanting and binds the stories together well. It’s a great informative piece and has a real community feel to it, especially since the stories shared are local ones; I think this is how it should be developed, focusing on its educational value, ensuring the voices of these women aren’t lost in time.
Experiment was a showcase of short, quickly developed pieces by local artists – each at around 15-20 minutes long.
My Name is Erla by Bonesaw Theatre – This is a really excellent piece. With just three young actors on stage, we are shown one woman’s descent into madness as she is held in solitary confinement over a murder she didn’t commit – or did she?
The performances are incredibly strong and the storyline intriguing. I particularly enjoy the pace and the strong connection between the actors which enable them to synchronise speech at times. I would love to see more of this.
There’s Some Sunshine by Katie-Ann Miles for Anthead Theatre – Part of a story exploring sexuality and identity, we are invited to watch as Jude, who is due to leave for university soon, navigates family prejudices and assumptions about the LGBTQ community. It’s a heartfelt piece, and the performances between Jude and their mother are particularly strong.
Untitled by NST Young Company – This piece was developed by the young actors themselves from an improvised session in a total of just 6 hours – which makes it all the more impressive. A group of people wake to find themselves in a strange place; disorientated and confused, they try to find a way to survive.
The performance has a dystopian, ‘Hunger Games’ feel about it, with a lot of mystery and unanswered questions. It’s an enjoyable piece so far and performed well, and I am curious to see how it will be developed further.
Code of Condemnation by Julia Davy – LGBTQ people have only been allowed to serve openly in the Armed Forces since 2000; Code of Condemnation explores the archaic attitude within the Royal Navy before the Millenium and the change it heralded. It’s great to see a local theatre company tackling serious subjects which would have been particularly pertinent for many from the community in Southampton and Portsmouth. While again, this show could do with a bit of a polish – as is the nature of this session! – it will hopefully turn into a very interesting production, highlighting attitudes which sadly linger in the corners of present-day society.
Tea? by Chloe Coombes – Tea? is a great little piece that explores grief with delicacy and relevance. It brings a complex subject down to earth, sharing the sessions between a young girl and her school counsellor after the death of a best friend. Short pieces of movement break up deep discussions, which are realistic, raw and unguarded. The performances are impressive and natural, which makes it a pleasure to watch.
Keep On Moving
An exploration of race, identity and change through music, this piece is full of rich themes and thought-provoking events. Switching between past and present, we see how Akim’s childhood experiences of racism in the seventies both affected him and his search for identity, and spurred him on to create music of his own. While I think it could do with some refinement, I love the focus on the soundtrack, and the sense of time and place it evoked, and the cast was a pleasure to watch too.
Anna Caroline Carr
Anna tells the story of her grandparents through music, monologue and recording in Kindred. While this is very much a work in progress (as is the nature of many of these shows) it has a lot of potential.
You could argue that producing a show about your own grandparents might be at risk of being a little self-indulgent, but my hope is that Kindred will evolve into a wider exploration of death and its role as a vehicle for truth. As someone prone to nostalgia, the sentimentality really speaks to me, and Anna’s performance is clearly heartfelt. It has some lovely, delicate moments, and I would love to see what this show becomes.
A mixture of film and on-stage performance, Ollie’s autobiographical piece tells the story of a man and his daily commute, utilising it as a way to explore mental health and masculinity through movement and monologue. Ollie’s performance is strong, and his monologue is particularly enjoyable – funny, thought-provoking and attention-grabbing. This is a great accessible piece and another impressive creation from a young performer. Again, it’s another show I think could – and should – be polished and expanded on.
Last Night I Didn’t Sleep A Wink
Horse Box Theatre Company
This was my final show of Make It SO, and it really ended the festival on a high. Last Night… is powerful and gripping, telling the story about a missing girl, and the people she pushed right to the edge before her disappearance.
With live music giving it an aggressive, ‘angsty-teen’ feel, and some complex family relationships explored, it’s a raw, honest and sometimes uncomfortable watch. Not all questions are answered at the end, and while it’s a little unnerving to have things left open-ended, it also feels right. I loved this piece and hope it’ll be back for more. The cast was particularly impressive in this production, offering some pretty powerful performances.
You can find out more about Make It SO retrospectively on the NST website. Watch out for future events!
I also tweeted about each visit – read my Make It SO Twitter thread :
Image courtesy of NST.