The world Ellis writes is one of worst scenarios, in which an earthly collapse can be contained in a mind. Two strangers (Rudolphe Mdlongwa and Agatha Elwes) are unable to sleep. By day, he markets margarine and she’s a television logger; listing time codes, her seconds stretch endlessly. By night, they detail their dreams of destruction in third-person commentary. How much of an effort it is to pretend, they think. How easy it would be to let it all come crashing down. Elwes drinks a cup of blood, and it drips as she talks of boredom.
Ellis’s script is breathlessly packed and carefully paced, with an astute awareness of generational anxiety and crippling insomnia. Charlotte Fraser’s direction is precise, and the cast’s attention to each other unwavering. As the night rolls on, their stories remain separate but smartly linked. On stage, each tries to work out who is the predator and who the prey. The intensity never lets up.
Theatre-makers Ben Kulvichit and Clara Potter-Sweet create beguiling and enchanting work that has an anarchic curiosity, their experiments leaving the stage strewn with mess. Both are newly graduated from the University of Warwick, following in the footsteps of the companies Breach, Barrel Organ and Walrus.
In their debut show, Celebration, Kulvichit and Potter-Sweet performed as themselves. Wriggling into a handmade wendy house, they asked each other to invent the future. Covered in silly string and steeped in song, they shrugged their bodies off each other, their dance turning to fight and then fatigue. Lacing frivolity with a burning desire to understand the world around them, they clung to the embrace of friendship in the face of uncertainty.
With the world getting in the way of the party, Celebration edged into the apocalyptic. Now, the duo are delving further into the end of days with their new show, Landscape (1989).
In Sam Ward’s first show, Five Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist, he asked audience members to take the roles of five men with whom he had sexual experiences. Delicately weaving the audience’s stories between his own, he created an atmosphere of such comfort that his guests simply hand him raw wounds.
He started developing Five Encounters when studying for a master’s in theatre directing at Birkbeck College, where he met producer Rhian Davies. For its follow-up, entitled [Insert Slogan Here], he’s joined on stage by music producer Henrietta Smith-Rolla and video artist Ryan Gilmartin. Inviting the audience to help him rebuild a memory, Ward folds a story of safety and belonging around Volvo adverts, overlaying recollections with authentic trailers. Echoing the global conglomerate’s gentle emotional manipulation, he toys with sincerity. It’s quietly cynical under the guise of warmth and tenderness, questioning how far synthetic performance, be it in an advert or on a stage, can distort us.
YESYESNONO’s work is both sly and straightforward, unashamed and openly questioning. [Insert Slogan Here] demonstrates a self-awareness and a dip into something darker as their work progresses.
Propel, a scratch night curated by YESYESNONO is at Home, Manchester, on 24 October.
Carefully controlling the audience’s gaze and their laughter, Alissa Anne Jeun Yi’s Love Songs, a monologue on love and assault, is disarmingly charming. In this debut show by Trip Hazards, Jeun Yi demonstrates an ability to pull together visually arresting images and cultural confusions. She holds out a pizza box in what could be a generous gesture, but leads to a takedown of pornography cliches.
In a personal but never saccharine account, she talks about her own experience of assault and rails against the hypersexualisation of east Asian women. Amid her search for an understanding of intimacy, she gives flashes of what makes up a relationship, both platonic and romantic. She hops and hula-hoops her way through poetry and stories, laughing along with us and nudging us into a sense of comfort. Behind her glow the words, “I can’t say his name”.
Love Songs feels like a stepping stone into brave territory. Jeun Yi has an ease on stage and a playful attitude towards formal technique. For the company’s next show, Progress, she is joined by Love Songs’ dramaturg Nikhil Vyas, who she met at Durham University, for an on-stage dance competition.
In their Edinburgh fringe hit Lights Over Tesco Car Park, Oxford-based collective Poltergeist Theatre unravel a story of alien contact, toy with the truth and challenge who we see as “other”.
The show is imbued with a buoyant excitement and written with a mature curiosity. Presenting their conversations with a local man called Robert, the cast – or researchers as they label themselves (Alice Boyd, Rosa Garland, Julia Pilkington and Will Spence) – become obsessed with claims of alien sightings. The audience join them on stage to re-create conspiracy theories and abduction stories. There are meta-theatrical sketches and disco breaks, but under the campfire glow there’s a gaping sense of loneliness and a question of how far their pursuit of Robert gives way to exploitation.
The team met through their university’s drama society and cemented their relationship at the North Wall theatre, where they have recently been made an associate company. All bar one have now graduated. The challenge, as for so many young companies, will be to find a way to keep the ties from snapping as the distance between them stretches.