Friday, 26 September 2014

Contact Compacts #3 @ Contact, Manchester, 25.09.14

The premise of Compact Contacts is to stage six short plays, handpicked by Pull Your Finger Out productions, and stage them in the foyer of the Contact Theatre. Tonight, the foyer is crammed with people on benches and bar stools as well as a healthy amount of stragglers standing around the fringes all awaiting the first twitch of the curtain. The fifteen minute performances are staggered in groups of two before short intervals. This gives the audience a decent amount of time to digest what they have just seen before returning to the next batch with their sense of anticipation heightened. It is an inspired idea and one that works to great effect.

From the emotionally charged monologues of Hallelujah and Wings to the darkly comedic turns in Celebrity Death Pool and Famous for Fifteen Minutes, each performance is executed with a professionalism which belies the unconventional setting. Personally, I thought the most nuanced writing appeared in Sean Mason’s Cream Tea, a concise tale of Oedipal pain woven into an espionage thriller - but there was no doubt that the six plays provided something for everyone in attendance.

Gareth George’s Famous for Fifteen Minutes is masterstroke in prop ingenuity (via flying bags of Wotsits) while Louise North’s Wings gives flight to thought’s that are rarely shared in public. In Hallelujah, Megan Griffith proves to be a deft dramaturge, augmenting the dialogue when it could easily have distracted from it in lesser hands.

The actors were picked through open auditions which make the performances all the more striking. All of the dozen or so performers were entirely believable but the lead in Cream Tea and the mother in Famous For Fifteen Minutes deserve a special mention.

For me, the best was saved till last. Elliot Hughes’s Boxes, written purposely with the space in mind, makes use of the lift, balcony and cleaning trolley of Contact. This story of an archetypal working man and bureaucratic boss begins with clich├ęd aplomb whilst a cleaner in the theatre’s uniform noisily cleans up a spillage at the back of the foyer, disgruntling those in attendance. The cleaning grows loud enough for the down at heel working man to break the third wall and throw a tantrum, revealing his true self in luvvie splendour. The ensuing interaction between cleaner and well-meaning artiste captured societal attitudes of class in ways that would escape more traditional formatting and had the room in stitches.

It was a great ending to an enjoyable night of vignettes that will leave a lasting impression on even the shortest of attention spans.

Words: Nathan McIlroy

Image: Andrew Anderson

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