A fantastic sequence of haphazardly associative imagery as seen in a dream or fever.
This is how the description read on the programme cover at the 503 last night. Phantasmagoria is the invention of Ciaran Dowd and Owen Roberts – former graduates of Royal Welsh and founders of Gravel Theatre.
As part of their training whilst at drama school, they were tasked with creating theatre from scratch and though the results were mixed, Dowd and Roberts liked what they saw. So, taking this idea of tit-bit theatre, Phantasmagoria was created – a tri-annual production, displaying three different pieces of new writing each time (around 20 minutes in length), nurturing and showcasing the talents and passion of the people involved.
The writers did an excellent job of taking us a journey within each piece and have undoubtedly proven their written credentials
Last night the journey took us out of civilisation, right back into it and left us trapped, in a somewhat awkward situation, in an office. The performances were solid throughout but Helena Lymbery, Sam Wilkin and Sam Fletcher stood out on the night – Fletcher in particular brought a true naturalism with him on stage in his role of Alan in Soap.
All of the plays last night – 80 Miles East of Nowhere, Blackpool and Soap – provided some good laughs and enjoyable viewing. With only 20 minutes to fill, the writers did an excellent job of taking us a journey within each piece and have undoubtedly proven their written credentials. With the exception of a slightly flailing actor in one of the pieces, the direction was strong, thought-out and all retained clarity of vision. The staging was kept minimal – a necessity for a production of this rotating nature – but it did seem a little excessive to have a lengthy interval of 15 minutes in between 20-minute productions.
Although each play had its merits, Soap stole the show last night with its witty writing, strong performances and intelligent directing.
The idea of Phantasmagoria is refreshing – short, succinct theatre. Dowd and Roberts have filled a niche in the market, surrounded themselves with other young talented people and given them a sphere in which they can flourish. Short plays – of last nights calibre – do not bore you, they instead keep you on your toes and give you a flash of brilliance. Gravel Theatre is a forward-thinking company and clearly has a lot to offer.
*** (3 stars)
Runs until 12th December 2010