Review: Off Cut Festival Group 1, Riverside Studios

“This…this could be a real opportunity”

The Off Cut Festival is a short play festival that is taking place over the next few weeks at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. It is quite an ambitious project which is bringing together 28 writers who have all come up with 15 minute plays and being staged here in four groups of seven with a creative team of over 80 actors and directors, the eventual winner receiving a full commission. I was actually part of a group of bloggers who were responsible for choosing a small handful of the plays that were included in the final 28 but I can’t really claim any responsibility here, it has all been down to the hard-working folks at In Company Theatre who have put together the whole shebang, something which must have been a logistical nightmare but which has come together nicely.

It is fascinating to see the different ways in which writers approach the 15 minute brief and the differing styles, subject matters and tones employed across the seven plays I saw this afternoon, which is then multiplied by four across the entire final shortlist. In some ways, it is easiest to go for comedy which makes the greatest initial impact but then it is not always so simple to make people laugh – as evidenced by a couple of these pieces in which the jokes often fell flat – and there’s something to be said for the more elliptical entries which entice you into their strange little worlds and are unafraid to leave questions unanswered, situations unresolved, but the interest most definitely piqued.

For me, the best of these managed to combine the two in some measure and so the three plays that got my vote (the two plays receiving the most overall votes will go through to the final week) were Lauren Spring’s Granted…, a twisted tale of a marriage gone wrong with the wife desperate to entice her husband once again, even though he is off to spend the night with his lover; Ross Howard’s The Viewing – a slightly surreal story of a family looking around a property abroad that they are determined to take, notwithstanding their difficult family issues and Wally Sewell’s The Wrong Tree, perhaps the least complex but straight-up funniest of the lot with Bob and Caroline, a miserably married couple eating breakfast silently but Bob’s internal monologue given hilarious human form in the shape of Inner Bob.

Funnily enough, the one that was selected by us bloggers, They F*** You Up Your Mum and Dad by Michael O’Hanlon, seemed to pale a little bit by comparison. It remained extremely funny as I remembered it, but the construction did quite work dramatically, the disappearance of the Mother in particular seeming like an odd choice. But it still entertained, and I was intrigued by Tracy Harris’ A Million Things as well, that coming fourth on my list.

Across the plays, there was a lot of strong acting going on which was all the more impressive given the limited time granted to make an impact. I enjoyed Victoria Allies and Stephen Fawkes as the estranged couple of Granted…, Zak Rowlands’ faint disgust as a cameraman for a flirtatious OAP’s video dating entry, Nathan Thompson and Richard Fish’s connectivity as Outer and Inner Bob respectively and the largesse of Duncan Pearse’s keen estate agent.

So an interesting experience altogether and in its support for new writers (and indeed the whole creative personnel involved), a richly rewarding endeavour. I just hope the ones I voted for make it through to the final! Groups three and four play next week so why not pop along and support some new play writing.

Group One plays
A Date with Doris by Jilly Gardiner, directed by Jilly Gardiner
Granted… by Lauren Spring, directed by Kenneth O’Toole
The Poet by Alan Fielden, directed by James O’Donnell
They F*** You Up Your Mum and Dad by Michael O’Hanlon, directed by Luisa Hinchcliff
The Wrong Tree by Wally Sewell, directed by Brigid Lohrey
A Million Things by Tracy Harris, directed by Nick Borsack
The Viewing by Ross Howard, directed by Tim Lee

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