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  • Alan M Hayes

The British Final of One-Act Plays 2022

Rhyl Pavilion Theatre 24 & 25 June 2022

Rhyl Pavilion provided a wonderful auditorium for this prestigious event. Comfortable seats, opulent decor and a wide inviting stage area all played a part in this fine event. If anything was disappointing it would be the scale of the audience, which was sadly, though perhaps understandably in these strange times, lacking in numbers. The adjudicator, David Price, was impressive in the level of detail that he brought to the assessments of the productions and the four companies were well served by him on both nights that each comprised of two plays.

Friday night began with the winners selected from the Drama Association of Wales Final. The Players’ Theatre presented ‘Singing in the Wilderness’ by David Campton and this entry had some lovely touches that showed why it had been a winning play. The curtains opened onto a fine, evocative, even magical, rural setting and received immediate appreciative applause from a knowledgeable audience. The stage space was dressed in a way that begged for imaginative animation and the company did not disappoint. A lovely creative feature was the introduction of puppetry that enhanced the action and was clearly well received by the audience. Campton’s plays often have a social or political message and this play, although first produced in 1985, had an ecology message that felt quite current. The well prepared cast guided us through the puns and broad humour with pleasing clarity and started the Festival well.

The second play on Friday, from The Association of Ulster Drama Festivals, was John Mortimer’s first play, written in 1957, ‘The Dock Brief’, presented by Theatre 3. The design sensibly reduced the acting area, defining a smaller central space within the vast Pavilion stage and selected a largely monochrome palette, in décor and costumes. There was a clever use of a slatted window gobo, which projected onto the floor stage left in the first act and stage right in the second, to help denote a passage of time. Stage dressing was simple and effective, a chair, a bed, a table and the direction used all aspects of the space to avert the potentially static nature of this two hander play, while clearly suggesting the claustrophobia within the situation. The two actors developed a fine double act, re-enacting various scenarios, with humour and a good sense of pace. The large auditorium did not best serve this intimate drama however and occasionally volume and projection, clearly demonstrative of the actors’ fine understanding in a smaller venue, did not convey far enough within the Pavilion. It was nevertheless a well acted piece of theatre, that was well received on the night.

Saturday evening began with the winners of the Scottish Community Drama Association, Fintry Amateur Dramatic Society performing Simon Mawdsley’s ‘Housebound’. As with the previous night’s closer, this play was an intimate two hander, set in one room, but this company decided to fill the large space with light and furniture; sofa, armchair, tables, cabinets, all in a pleasing matched design of Scandinavian wood. The really clever feature of the setting was the use of an office chair, the wheeled movement of which provided movement on stage that would have been denied for the hostage who was tied to it. So, the burglar character could move the chair at strategic moments to create different perspectives and this brought variety into the animation of the stage space. There was much to admire in the acted relationship that developed during the play, both actors listening well to each other and helping us to suspend our disbelief in a plot that became increasingly leaky as the situation became increasingly unlikely. The two actors did an excellent job with voice, movement, posture and gesture, sweeping the audience along in a most efficient, professional manner.

Closing the Saturday evening, and indeed the Festival itself, was the winning play from the All-England Theatre Festival, Total Arts Community Theatre’s performance of Metamorphoses written/developed by Sami Abrahim, Laura Lomas and Sabrina Mahfouz for London’s Globe Theatre. A strong feature of this production was the relocation of the original text into a 1920s Art Deco setting, performed in front of three fan shaped structures, symmetrically positioned with added pot plants to provide width and cover a considerable amount of the stage picture. Opulent costumes were provided for those of high status and timeless colourful combinations for lower status characters. Extreme colour washes of lighting were occasionally utilised to complement elemental aspects of the text. The acting was uniformly to a high standard, with some lovely stylised aspects of production, like the failed rescue by Orpheus of Eurydice which was embellished with effective physical theatre and the choral talents of the Ciconian women. This was a bravura production to which David Price awarded the Howard De Walden Trophy for best in Festival, and the event concluded, with much good work upon which to ponder. Next year the British final moves to Belfast and I, for one, am already looking at accommodation.

Alan M Hayes

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