“And the winner is…”
After a successful run over the last few weeks at the Riverside Studios, the Off Cut Festival reached its finale tonight and prizes awarded, including the coveted Audience Award which carries with it a commission to develop the winning play and receive a full production here in Hammersmith. The 28 plays were whittled down to the 8 most popular which then made it through to the final week to perform again and audiences were able to vote on their favourite, the announcement being made at this final showcase. A panel of industry professionals also awarded honours for the best company of actors, director and writer to complement the main prize as the audience watched each of the finalists for one final time.
Having missed Group 4, I was keen to see the two plays that had made it through from that selection so that I could make up my own mind about who I thought should win. The first of these was Andrew Biss’ The Craft – a hysterical two-hander about two mutually loathing actors playing a scene with their every inner thought being spoken out loud. I loved it, it was immediate, punchy writing and crucially extremely witty. Tracy Ann Wood and Dan March were ideally suited to their roles, the only thing I would say about it was that as it was such a perfectly-formed 15 minute short, I wasn’t too sure how it could have been further developed. The other, Tanja Mariadoss’ Let There Be, I was less keen on. A scatty artist having something of a breakdown starts an illicit affair with her landlord who is something of an uncle figure in her life whilst his 14 year old daughter watches on with disgust, kissing her teeth and spitting lyrical barbs as a would-be rapper. It wasn’t that it was at all bad, I just didn’t really engage with the piece or really want to see much more of how the story might develop, although Hannah Wood’s white-girl rapping was a delight to behold.
Typically then, it was Let There Be that won the Audience Award! I am clearly well out of touch, hehe but congratulations to all involved, and I will be interested to see how it develops into a fuller piece of theatre. And it was interesting to see how my reactions to the other shows had adjusted on second, or in some cases, third viewing. Rebecca A Fielding’s Bound engaged me a lot more this time round and surprisingly for me, I found Beatrice Armstrong’s Alternative Therapy a little bit moving, knowing in advance the sadness that lay at the heart of it.
Ultimately, my winners would have been between Louise Taylor’s Two Rings – a play I loved from the first time we heard it as one of our Blogger’s Panel choices – and Mark Wright’s Looking For Vi. I felt there was so much potential for Two Rings, the poignancy of a relationship growing between these two women with their unlikely connection but only one of them having the opportunity to actually remember it as Alzheimer’s weaves its destructive course. And Looking For Vi felt like the most complete work over the festival, Julia St John’s assured direction striking quickly to the heart of the story, the characters and their motivations, making us laugh, ache and cry and really care about it all: of course there was an added bite to the bittersweet ending with the recent news of Betty Driver’s passing. I was extremely pleased to see that it won the acting award from the panel.
All in all, I have to say that I found the Off Cut Festival to be a highly enjoyable experience throughout all my interactions with it. Initiatives that support the new in any field are to be commended, especially in this economic climate and just looking at the numbers indicates how much of a valuable resource Off Cut has made itself: twenty-eight writers, twenty-eight directors and seventy-five actors were all able to showcase their skills in front of audiences, make further connections within the industry and work within such a supportive atmosphere. My hat goes off to In Company Theatre for nurturing this festival – both in terms of how the creatives can benefit from it and also in recognising the importance of the opinions of the audience. Critics and reviewers are all very well but audiences are just as vital, if not more so, and thus engaging them in this way should ensure that the theatre that they are producing, is the theatre that people want to see.
Audience award – Let There Be
Acting award – Looking for Vi
Writing award – Bound
Directing award – The Wrong Tree