After the recent long strike of full-length, emotionally heavy theatre shows, I was looking for something to refresh my mind and bring my energy levels back – and that’s when Reboot Festival came in. With a lineup of 18 shows in 3 weeks, new writing pieces (carefully chosen from 400 submissions!) and exciting new names among the directors – it looked intriguing.
A theatrical tapas table of emotions
Leo Bacica, one of the organisers, compared this short plays festival to “a feast of tapas”. And I could totally understand why. As an experience, it felt short and punchy, extremely varied – but making you want to return in a week, to see what else’s in store. The shows bring different themes, energy and style – and just like in a tapas buffet, I liked some more and some a bit less. But with 6 shows on display every week, even the most picky theatre fan will find something they love.
Could this be the theatre format of the future?
In a world where Instagram and TikTok are chipping away at our attention spans, these snack-sized plays might just be the ideal chill-out formula after a hard day’s work. And because they experiment with approach, movements and topics – and are still in their “moulding” stage, they are also very receptive to audience comments, participation and feedback. And that’s something I could definitely see as intriguing, even to people who don’t usually enjoy the “standard” theatre shows.
Reboot Festival 2023 – Week 1
I had the pleasure to watch the line-up for Week 1 of Reboot, with shows directed by both first-timers and experienced creators, coming from UK and abroad. I think it’s the most condensed theatre experience I’ve had so far – 6 shows in 1 evening is no easy feat.
Since the shows are 10-20 minutes long, I don’t think scoring the performances stars would give them any justice (ok, I’m actually sure it just wouldn’t work here for like a 100 reasons). In such short time, you won’t fully immerse in a story – but you can feel things. So I shall focus on feelings here.
Little Black Dress by John Mabey, directed by Pamela Farrugia
The night kicked off with this heartwarming tale, as we joined a couple getting ready for a night out. But, as fate would have it, they stumble upon a revelation that goes beyond the ordinary – a secret involving crossdressing (or maybe even more, let’s not get too hung up on labels). The handling of this delicate theme was spot on, setting a positive and seamless tone for the evening. Though the story felt a bit rushed at times, the couple’s dynamic remained genuine. It’s almost surreal to think that such a life-altering conversation could realistically start and finish in just 10-15 minutes, so the show gave an impression of something out of a dream rather than an everyday occurrence.
A standout moment for me was a brief sequence featuring a rapid exchange of questions and incisive responses between the two characters. The chemistry between the actors was exceptionally well-tuned, infusing the scene with a burst of energy within mere seconds.
Major feelings I had: heartwarming, overwhelmingly sweet and uplifting
Bound Set by Stephen Dierkes, directed by Sebastiao Marques Lopes
For me, the standout moment of the night was an uproarious blend of comedy and mystery. Picture this: a married couple, inexplicably tethered to chairs in a covert location, setting the stage for an onslaught of comedic brilliance filled with puns galore. The storyline is carried by the precision of its razor-sharp writing, peppered with side-splitting wisecracks about Switzerland and its charmingly woolly residents. The impeccable performances of both actors had the audience in stitches, laughing heartily throughout. This show is an absolute must-see, and its potential for expansion into a full-length production is unmistakable.
I appreciate the director’s skills here – it’s a challenge to draw an audience in a plot where for majority of the show the actors don’t even move – and you can’t even see their eyes. Yet here, thanks to minimalistic, punchy stage movement and brilliant script, the story reaches new heights with each minute.
Major feeling I had: intrigued, amused, rolling on the floor with laughter
My Ghost by Nina Tolstoy, directed by Jagoda Kamov
This play adopts a more introspective tone, immersing itself in the challenges of caring for elderly and isolated patients while shedding light on pressing healthcare issues. It takes a conscious step back, deliberately slowing down the tempo to provide audiences with a window into the life of an elderly man who believes he’s surrounded by what he describes as “ghostly” figures within his home. The introduction of a unique caregiver, known for her somewhat haphazard nature but esteemed for her tea-making skills, injects an intriguing layer into the storyline (though it’s worth noting that the acting in this part veered toward the theatrical and physically exaggerated, in stark contrast to the static patient seated in the chair).
This play shed light on the flawed approach to elderly patients and the healthcare system – and a whole thing felt painfully relatable. It’s one of the shows, where the combined effort of the writer, cast and director created a piece that I’d love to see extended into a full-length play.
Major feeling I had: concerned, aware, empathetic
The Dating Pool by Arianna Rose, directed by Hannah Gooden
“The Dating Pool” cleverly brings a 60-year-old woman face to face with her younger selves, uniting them symbolically at a particular point in time. This performance is driven by a carefully written script and well-practiced lines that create a deep connection for the audience with the different versions of the main character. The script weaves together a cohesive narrative, even as the actresses visibly embody distinct physical differences.The play mainly focuses on exploring past relationships and personal growth, seamlessly blending the experiences of women from various age groups, highlighting how life’s experiences are interconnected.
I was especially impressed by Rebecca Hunt’s portrayal of the 60-year-old version of herself, which exuded the vibrant essence of Donna from “Mamma Mia.” Despite the intimate size of the Baron’s Court stage, which at times felt a bit crowded due to the largest cast of the night, Hunt as the main character skilfully kept the audience engaged throughout the performance. I can’t help but imagine that with the addition of water projections and some creative staging, this show has the potential to captivate its audience even more.
Major feeling I had: connected, eager to see more
Just Nod by Anna Clart, directed by Vittorio Parri
This play takes the audience on an emotional ride, skillfully employing the metaphorical interplay of light and darkness to convey its deep storyline. At its heart, it centres around a heartfelt conversation between two sisters, presenting diverse approaches to supporting someone dealing with depression. The interaction between the sisters is defined by a striking contrast that captures both the rawness and the warmth of their connection. The use of light as a visual motif throughout the narrative adds a visually striking and emotionally charged layer to the performance. To top it off, one sister’s overly optimistic demanor injects a humorous element into the heartfelt moments, creating a delightful blend of emotions.
Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that, partially due to the script’s emphasis, the narrative predominantly favored one of the sisters, leaving the character grappling with depression in the shadows until the final minutes, where her talents finally took the spotlight. Personally, I found the conclusion a bit off-putting, as it came across as overly straightforward and somewhat didactic, diminishing the nuanced storytelling that had been unfolding.
Major feeling I had: confused, emotionally connected, empathetic
Closing Doors by John Minigan, directed by Sharon Willems
This performance delves into a thought-provoking exploration of complex subjects, including school shootings, fractured friendships, and the somewhat perplexing (from a European perspective) emergency school shooting protocols. While the storyline does become a bit wordy as it draws to a close, there’s no denying its ability to leave a lasting impact and stay with you. The play boldly confronts the weighty topics of school shootings and interpersonal conflicts, all within the confines of a brisk 20-minute production. Nevertheless, it does take a somewhat theatrical turn towards the end, with the final exchanges between characters leaving room for refinement.
Erin Hunter, whom I previously praised for her comedic solo show “Surfing the Holyland,” skillfully brings to life an authentic character in the form of a teacher navigating the intricate realm of school shootings, initially taken aback and ultimately engaged in a fiery argument. Her friend and colleague (Kristin Duffy), who also serves as a link to the school’s principal, conveys a nuanced sense of hierarchy while fostering a believable connection with the accused teacher.
Remarkably, the play unfolds as a well-structured and self-contained story, wrapping up with a meaningful voiceover that emphasizes crucial snippets related to the issue of school shootings in the United States. This play stands as a meticulously crafted work that needs no additional elaboration and firmly establishes its presence in the realm of theatre.
The show seems very cohesive as a full-on story, with a closing voiceover serving some soundbites drawing attention to school shootings in the US. I found this to be the most thought-through piece that requires no further expansion and confidently stands on its own feet.
Major feeling I had: discomfort, lasting impression
If you’re looking for a delightful evening of diverse and punchy short plays that’ll leave you laughing, pondering, and feeling deeply moved, then Reboot Festival at Baron’s Court Theatre in London is where you need to be this September. Keep on checking the weekly rota of shows this month!
*I received a ticket to see the shows in exchange for honest review.
Reboot Festival 3
by Kibo Productions
Baron’s Court Theatre, London
5 – 23 September 2023
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