Review: Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre, LOST Theatre, ✭✭✭✭

Performing a one man show can be an intimidating and lonely proposition for an actor. But for the spectator there can be something so eminently watchable in that isolated individual.

This seems to be the foundation on which the Face to Face festival has been created. Now in its second year, it celebrates the soloist, giving new writer-performers a chance to test their mettle alongside established titans of the genre.

Confident but vulnerable, Dowie lures you in with a smile and her Brummie brogue, then holds your attention for every second of her story

Newcomer Bianca Watson gives an arresting performance in The Maxwell Syndrome, a sinister surrealist meditation on relationships and feeling caged. She sits on her chair, an animated head on a static torso, her face contorting in disgust or seductive pleasure. While Deirdre Strath bobs around the stage, beaming like a Stepford wife, with her cake stand in hand in the all American Betty Has To Go Now.
Watson and Strath, both newcomers, falter at times. Watson’s narrative is dark and foreboding and feels entirely inconsequential – it’s the performance that intrigues you here. Meanwhile Strath is simply too quiet, and again the narrative feels passable rather than vitally important.

This is in stark contrast to the experience of Claire Dowie. Donning her 14 year old self’s school uniform, she amuses us with stories of youth, and being forced to be a ‘girl’ with all the trapping that word entails. Swaggering around the stage, all teenage angst, wrapped up in a 56 year old woman, she is stunning. Confident but vulnerable, Dowie lures you in with a smile and her Brummie brogue, then holds your attention for every second of her story, right up to its abrupt and jarring conclusion.

Similarly Ivor Dembina exudes confidence and warmth. He chats to you in such a casual manner that it doesn’t feel like a performance. It feels more like you’re sat with your favourite uncle, sharing a pint while he regales you with tales about his work as a peace keeper in Gaza.
Both Ivor and Claire draw their audience in with a compelling narrative. Their connection to it fools you into believing these are immensely personal anecdotes and not accomplished works of fiction. It’s pure storytelling skill, something every actor requires, but is of essence to the solo performer.

Face to Face will never be a perfectly polished product. Giving newcomers a chance to cut their teeth has to allow for a certain amount of mistakes to be made. But as long as the newcomers have the potential on display here, and they are coupled with the experience of more established acts it’s worth grabbing a ticket to find a gem of a story.

**** (4 stars)
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