I booked tickets for the One Festival on a bit of a whim. An actor/writer acquaintance had posted about it on Facebook, and I decided it would be a nice thing to do to fill a soggy Sunday afternoon last weekend. Then I ended up out a couple of hours later than intended last Saturday and it didn’t quite happen… But the idea of going appealed, so I decided to go to the next performance instead.
The venue – The Space – is a lovely wee venue, with a fairy lit bar upstairs serving the ubiquitous craft beer and a decent looking menu. It’s intimate but not claustrophobic, with around 50 seats in the performance space, and the set was bare – every play used just a chair, and the odd handheld prop.
The One Festival features plays performed by just one actor, and has grown over the last 5 years to its current size – 5 programmes, each featuring 4 or 5 different plays. We saw Programme B, which had a bit of a heroes and villains theme.
First up was Quiet Night in, written and directed by Robert Elkin and performed by Amy Gough. Full disclosure – the aforementioned actor/writer chum (whom I met at The Drowned Man, of course) was Robert Elkin. Having not seen him for a couple of years (and not knowing him all that well), I was a little nervous about laughing in the right places, making sure we didn’t offend him. But I needn’t have worried – it was written with real affection and amusement running throughout. There was obviously a lot of Robert in Sophie (the character), and Amy was such a charismatic performer. It was one of the longest pieces of the evening, but it never dragged and while the concept was farcical (a dinner party where all your ideal guests – dead or alive – turn up) it was utterly charming, with real heart. It was funny, it was sweet, and it had an ending I think most people – especially Londoners – can relate to.
Next, we had Gypsy Queen, written and directed by Sepy Baghaei and performed by Lauren Barnes. A fantastical tale of betrayal and the extremes to which it can drive a person, it was nicely written, but better performed – Lauren gave it a real serene, poetic, ethereal quality. It was a shorter piece, but well judged.
After the interval came Spit or Swallow, written by Jonathan Skinner and performed by Jennifer Oliver, who was excellent – it’s not easy to act that subtle, two-glasses-of-wine-too-many kind of drunk. The entire piece was an extended double entendre, so could have gotten old quickly, but Jennifer was engaging and funny, and it was, again, well judged time-wise to keep it short and sweet.
The penultimate play was Villain, written and performed by Steven Shawcroft, and directed by Jodie Botha. It felt very much autobiographical, with Steven playing an actor who desires to be a great performer like his idol, by playing villains to the point of becoming one. In a very strong and largely funny line-up, being the only piece which didn’t really utilise humour meant it had a big job to do to navigate a change of pace – especially after the overtly funny Spit or Swallow. It didn’t entirely succeed – I think due to having a less accomplished performer than the other pieces – but it was pretty well written. Perhaps a fresh take on it by an actor less close to it could bring out the nuances of the script.
Last up was A Comic Book Ending, written and directed by Elliot Baker and performed by Ross Virgo. Another longer piece with lots of humour and a very strong actor, this was the perfect matching bookend to the opening play. Ross had buckets of charm and enthusiasm, and gave a very physical performance which had us all going along for the ride with him. It felt fresh and original, and there’s no denying it was a real crowd-pleaser.
All in all, the night was hugely enjoyable, and very well programmed. Not to mention an absolute bargain at 5 plays for £12 – and you get discounted tickets if you go see more than one of the 5 programmes. Plus we got 2 drinks at the bar for under £8 and in London, that’s a bloody miracle!
The One Festival is on until 29th January – find out more and book tickets at https://space.org.uk/events/