Bedlam Festival 2014: 3 ‘shorts’ – ‘Seawall’; ‘On One Knee’; ‘Rob and Roberta’

Bedlam Festival 2014

“and – magic – you have theatrical Snapchat”

Editorial Rating: Unrated 

LOWDOWN: The ‘Bedam Festival’ is a six day festival … operated by the longest running student theatre in Britain … completely administered, staffed and performed by students and young people primarily studying at Edinburgh University.’ 

In case you wondered (because you’re not a student), the Bedlam Theatre is the ninety seat theatre housed in the old New North Free Church on Bristo Pl, looking down towards George IV Bridge. It is Fringe venue No49 in August when use of the pa. system seems important. Last week, on the one occasion that I heard a solemn “The House is now open”, it was laughingly decried as ‘train station posh’.I saw three productions on consecutive evenings at 6.00pm. Audience numbers looked good at around 50+. Rob and Roberta had two performances; Seawall and On One Knee were one-offs.

Seawall by Simon Stephens.  This is a surprising and effective piece. It is a grief-stricken story of sudden loss and immanent mourning. Jonathan Oldfield as Alex is quietly alone on stage and is looking back at what happened and would bring his audience with him to the edge of his personal darkness. The submerged seawall of the title is where you back away from the depths of misery on its other side. This tale is thirty minutes in the telling but you wouldn’t know it. Alex moves you through in tones half conversational, half confessional, and the emotional tug is unremitting. There are sorrow smudged sketches of his partner, Helen; of her father, Arthur; and of their child Lucy; but it is Alex alone who gains real definition.  Oldfield’s monologue would be heart-breaking in its gathering intensity but writer Simon Stephens waives the sentimental, preferring a body blow to the stomach. Alex used to cry at anything – that moment in Groundforce, for instance, when the made-over garden is revealed to its surprised owner – but not anymore. Oldfield’s performance has real gut-churning weight behind it.

On One Knee by Delia Bloom is thirty minutes of original writing for EUTC and opens up with Bruno Mars’ ‘Marry You’, whose dance track is just right for this light and irrationally accurate show. ‘Looking for something dumb to do’? Easy, put one lovelorn loon, Jamie, on the left of the stage to propose marriage to Christine and put his two pals Tom and Erica on sofas to the right with lots of vodka shots.   John Forster is sweet Jamie and a very credible sucker for Imy Wyatt Corner as Christine who – of course – fancies another, fitter, laddie. So much, so deliberately cringeworthy; but meanwhile there’s comic action across at the flat where friends Tom (Jonathan Barnett) and Erica (Isabella De Vere Rogers) are texting to save Jamie from himself.  Writer Delia Bloom gets it right here: life for this merry band is ‘one story after another’, just link arms and skip from one side of the stage to the other and – magic – you have theatrical Snapchat. De Vere Rogers, sassy, and Barnett, smart, work well together and try out stylish Anna (Blanca Siljedahl) as a better girlfriend for Jamie. How ‘better’? Who cares baby, let’s just play ‘The Settlers of Catan’. Congradulations (sic) to director Sally Pendelton.

Rob and Roberta by Rory Keller is more loaded. You are still in flat share land but there’s talk of careers underway – the law, medicine – and relationships are heavier to shift. Rob (Laurie Motherwell) is weary before his time and relieves the weight by being snide to his best friend, Roberta (Emma Nevell), and it is a wonder she puts up with him as cheerfully as she does. If he had lots of words Rob would be messing with the heads of his friends, as it is he contents himself by pulling them away from each other. Rida (Daniel Orejon) loves Cheeto (Adam Butler) in less time than it takes to crunch a cornmeal snack but that kind of wholesome enjoyment is not for the jaded Rob. He is therefore the challenge that pert and determined Rachel (Izzy Hourihane) is looking for. She will ‘fix’ her man within a year, she declares, and the play’s action describes that attempt. Hourihane’s energy is vital and holds your attention through multiple scenes past and present but at times I, for one, was wondering ‘What for? Is Rob worth it?’ He does resolve this for himself at the play’s shocking end but I got the distinct impression that Rob and Roberta is a psychological drama that had lost its plot.

I really would have liked to have seen more shows; I should have done.

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 22, 23, 24 January)

Visit Bedlam Festival 2014 homepage here.