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Review: The McConnell New Writing Fund @ Theatro Technis

This review was originally written for Everything Theatre

The McConnell New Writing Fund launched in 2015 in memory of playwright Jean McConnell. It offers four emerging writers and directors the chance to have their work produced and showcased. Over 200 applicants were whittled down to just eight, and the fruits of that eight’s labours – four unrefined but powerful short plays – are currently being staged at Theatro Technis. It’s a brisk, whirlwind showcase of four vastly different works.

In 2015, Camilla Batmanghelidjh’s charity Kids Company, which provided support for deprived inner-city children, went into liquidation amid accusations of financial mismanagement and sexual abuse. Clare Reddaway’s The Angel Of Peckham, directed by Matthew Iliffe, explores the woman at the heart of the charity in a fluid, dynamic fashion.

Linda John-Pierre is an indignant, proud Batmanghelidjh, resplendent in a multi-coloured robe. Around her swirls a three-strong chorus (Mark Matthews, Darrie Gardner, Claudia Campbell), who converse about Batmanghelidjh as if she isn’t even there, dissecting her life and analysing her motives. It’s an engaging device and, although Reddaway fails to bring to the surface the pertinent issues surrounding Batmanghelidjh’s fall from grace, she nonetheless plays with them with an intriguing, thought-provoking style.

Conor Carroll’s It Is So Ordered is a dialogue, of sorts, between two black New Yorkers: Johnny (Joseph Adelakun), serving life for a murder he did not commit, and Bobby (Simon Mokhele), the man who told that lie and has lived under its weight his entire life. It’s a riveting piece that explores institutional racism, the redemptive power of religion, and the punishing nature of guilt.

Lucy Curtis gracefully directs Adelakun and Mokhele, who are entirely convincing both as young teenagers and as older, more reflective men. Mokhele’s character, Bobby, is slightly underdeveloped, slightly one-dimensional, but both actors handle Carroll’s richly authentic writing adeptly, displaying a commendable maturity and restraint.

A Government Warning, by Christine Roberts, is a frank, unapologetic portrait of a working class family and a fierce two-fingers up to the current Tory government. Carolyn English is a weary, ashamed mother, Andrew Horton her threatening, ashamed son, and Chloe Anna Wilcox her angry, ashamed daughter. They outline their lives to the audience, challenging them to judge, then shaming them for their presumptions.

It’s a heart-breaking piece that is genuinely difficult to watch. It is directed astutely by Jessica McKenna and delivered well by the three-strong cast, but Roberts’ writing suffers from an adolescent lack of restraint. She undoubtedly has real political fire in her belly, and this shines throughout, but with a little more subtlety and craft, A Government Warning could be twice as powerful and half as monotone.

The final piece, Steven Fraser’s I Remember, is more of a performance poem than a play. It is essentially the rhythmic Christmas Day diary entry of a child with Asperger’s, which relentlessly dives down rabbit holes, taking the audience on an intense journey into the mind of a mentally unstable child. David Loumgair directs and Aisling Fahey delivers energetically, whilst Jamie Scott-Smith provides a raucous musical accompaniment using a loop pedal.

I Remember is a heartfelt piece that feels extremely personal yet contains a universal message about tolerance and sensitivity. It provides a fittingly inspiring finale to an inspiring showcase of young talent.

4/5

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