SCDA One Acts

April 23, 2016 | By | Reply More

★★★★☆    Varied

Church Hill Theatre: Thurs 21 April 2016
Review by Thom Dibdin

By turns surreal, impeccably directed and heartbreaking, the first three finalists of the SCDA’s One-Act Festival finals ensured that the opening night lived up to its billing.

The Festival is the big event in the Scottish Community Drama Association’s calendar and this, the Scottish final, is being held in Edinburgh for only the second time in the last fifty years.

The cast of Audience. Photo Walter Hampson

The cast of Audience. Photo Walter Hampson

Over the three nights, the winners and runners up of the four divisional rounds – Northern, Highland, Eastern and Western – are competing for the right to represent Scotland in the British Finals, to be held in Cardiff in July.

Sitting in adjudication over them is Russell Whiteley, who will be doling out the points according to the SCDA’s strict criteria for acting, production, stage presentation and general achievement.

But Thursday night was all about the Dingwall Players, Leitheatre and the Crossmichael Drama Club. It was the drama on the stage – not the drama of winning and losing – which counted.

Picnic on the Battlefields by the Spanish playwright Fernando Arrabal, an absurdist and downright macabre play about war originally written in 1952, opened the proceedings with the thunder of artillery and bursts of machine-gun fire.

surreal

A bit hesitant in its performance, and not quite sure of how to engage with its audience, the production nevertheless succeeded in bringing Arrabel’s denouncement of war into focus. Here was Zapo (Lee Dunn) in ignorant soldier of the trenches, knitting during breaks in the gunfire and shooting with his eyes closed.

The cast of Picnic on the Battlefield. Photo: Walter Hampson

The cast of Picnic on the Battlefield. Photo: Walter Hampson

The arrival of his parents (Nick Fearne and Kristine Thomson) for a picnic brings in an edge of the surreal. The parents are at once innocent of the art of modern warfare and yet pompous in the certainty of their own opinions as the bring out the picnic and help their boy capture Zepo an enemy soldier (Kinnon Clark), who is more like their own boy, than different.

If the whole lacked a  properly surreal bite, it wasn’t for lack of imagination from director Allan Thomson and the company’s designer. Excellently conceived, it just needed an extra layer of commitment from the performers.

By complete contrast, Edinburgh’s Leitheatre brought Michael Frayn’s Audience – in which the performers are an audience watching an avant-garde  play in which the audience (the real audience) is the performance.

It’s a clever piece of writing – rather more clever than it is successful – which puts great demands on the company and the director. Phyllis Ross got her direction of it just about spot on, drawing out the comedy and timing of it and getting a stirling ensemble performance from her 13 players.

triviality

Its joy lies in its triviality, the observation of an audience as a herd and of the individuals which make up that herd. Having made the whole thing clear, and got the ensemble moves down perfectly, next step would be to find more depth in the individuals.

27 Wagons Full of Cotton - Helen Fox. Photo: Walter Hampson

27 Wagons Full of Cotton – Helen Fox. Photo: Walter Hampson

For the final piece of the evening, Crossmichael Drama Club staged Tennessee Williams’ three hander, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton.

The basis for the film Baby Doll, the play is dark beyond redemption. The violent Jake (Codge Crawford) burns down the local cotton mill, so that he can get work from rival cotton owner, Silva Vicarro (Stephen Carruthers). When Silva offers Jake 27 wagons of cotton to gin, Jake leaves him alone on the porch with his young, voluptuous wife Flora (Helen Fox), while he goes off to work.

It’s themes of domestic abuse, poverty and rape make it a very hard watch, but under Codge Crawford’s direction, the company entice their audience in to its raw heart.

This is largely down to Fox’s entrancing central performance as Flora. She gets the vulnerability of the character and there is real pain in the violence inflicted upon her by Jake. There is not enough dynamic through the whole production, however, and Carruthers, although utterly chilling at points, is too static in the set up.

And while the whole certainly leaves on a dark note, its ending is overly melodramatic when it needs to be stark.

That said, it is still heartbreaking stuff, a production that rounds off the whole evening with a punch to the gut. And, with the other two productions of the night, proves that amateur theatre is very much a force to be reckoned with.

Running time: Three hours (with two intervals).
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Thursday 21 – Saturday 23 April 2016
Evenings 7pm.

Listing Details

2016 SCDA One-Act Festival – Scottish Final

Thursday 21 April 2016:
Picnic on the Battlefield by Fernando Arrabal
(Dingwall Players)
Audience by Michael Frayn
(Leitheatre)
27 Wagons Full of Cotton by Tennessee Williams
(Crossmichael Drama Club)

Friday 22 April 2016
Cruise Missile by Jean McConnell
(Highland -Lochcarron ADS)
Into The Mist by Helen Wyngard
(Killin Drama Club)
Degas C’est Moi by David Ives
(Ad Hoc, Orkney).

Saturday 23 April 2016
The Sociable Plover by Tim Whitnall
(Greenock Players)
A Bench at the Edge by Luigi Jannuzzi
(Studio Theatre Group)
Followed by general adjudication and prize giving.

Tickets from SCDA@fraz.eclipse.co.uk
Phone: 0131 225 5952
Online at: http://www.scdaedinburgh.org.uk/page46.html

ENDS

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