"Real gems uncut and priceless"
by Maddy Ryle for remotegoat on 27/01/10

The premise of the bimonthly Bare Bones event allows directors to take on new works by writers and produce performances of them which rely on the crucial ingredients of great theatre: good writing and good acting. So minimal props, no set or staging to speak of. A table and a couple of chairs was pretty much it for most of the six plays I saw.

It really works. The language of the scripts was in main beautifully crafted, and some incredibly strong performances allowed it to sing out.

Top mention has to go to 'Sixteen', written by Adam Barnard and directed by Ned Glasier. I've seen a number of plays that address the 'youth of today' - their anger and malaise, their relationship with technology, adults and drugs - but none which packs a punch like 'Sixteen'. Jodie and Joe, both 16, take turns on stage; she is preparing for an internet blind date with 'a real man' - compulsively processing all her thoughts and fears through Facebook. That moment of sexual awakening, looming adulthood - and painful naïvete - are captured perfectly by (18 year-old) Hayley Thomas. Daniel O'Keefe (also 18) as a white boy from a screwed-up home trying to make good in a last chance special school for disruptive pupils is, if possible, even more compelling. In one long monologue that never loses pace he moves through all the moods of a life on the brink as his sixteenth birthday plays out; O'Keefe's delivery, emotion and physical presence combined to produce something very special. Both actors and director Ned Glasier, of Islington Community Theatre, got the best out of some very astute writing from Barnard. Exciting stuff indeed.

All these plays had something to offer. The show opened with 'Merger Talks', a wry and slightly alarmingly plausible satire in which two strangers sit down at their laptops to hammer out a marriage contract. Great delivery and comic timing from Stephen Barden and Michelle McMahon and sparkling wit from writer Tom Jensen.

This was followed by UK Plc on Trial. Kafka fans will be wary of a central character called Joseph K, and I have to say the opening and closing scenes of this piece are not entirely convincing, but there's some very strong stuff in between as K is ground down by the absurdity of 21st century bureaucracy. Good use of physical theatre and some brave subject matter too as it takes on the issue of child protection. K's 'line of flight' poetic monologue at the end perhaps needed the extra effects of staging and lighting, however, to evoke the mood which talented actor-director Adam Dawson is seeking here.

Weakest of the six, though not without some comic value, 'I See Myself as an Indiana Jones Figure' is about two implausible couples meeting by chance on the same day. One stays together, one splits up. But it gets to the end and you wonder what's really been said.

More topical stuff again in 'Losing It', in which three (retired??) army vets are gathered for a friend's wake. The son of one, just back from his third tour (Afghanistan or Iraq we're not told - but hell on earth it's clear), joins them, bloodied and manic, to tear apart their falsified narrative of the adventure of war. With a fantastic display from Oliver Ashworth as the dangerously disturbed young Billy, the use of some deeply dark comedy works very well here.

Finishing off the night, 'Trust' is a much more personal piece in which another mismatched couple find themselves pregnant but out of love. Rosalind Wyllie's script is raw and daring in it's exploration of the fears and jealousies that pregnancy brings. As Steve transforms from immature lad to proud father, Sally's resentment and maternal isolation don't allow for any cosy closure.

Wish I could say more but space is limited. This was a showcase of inspiring creativity. Forget the West End - it's all about the Bare Bones. Bravo.

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