Oryx Productions: A Night of Pop-Up Plays at 93 Feet East
Tucked away on Brick Lane is 93 Feet East. This bar with a gritty, underground atmosphere has an unexpected addition to its calendar of live events in the form of experimental plays showcasing new writing and directing talent. Oryx Productions are an up-and-coming theatre company, inviting young playwrights to push the limits of experimental theatre, with Zoe Sharp and Emma Penny arranging for budding directors and actors to collaborate to create four pop-up plays, rehearsed during the week with volunteer participants and then performed on Tuesday evenings.
At their showcase last Tuesday night, I was struck by the confident and bold tone of the plays, all of them tackling controversial topics and complex themes.
After a large audience gathered in the bar, anticipating the performance, the music was suddenly dropped with the lights. The audience were confronted with its own members becoming actors, as three unassuming young men began to argue with each other over the unexpected and underage pregnancy of the main instigator’s young sister.
This first short play went on to draw on themes such as morality and religion, with the characters confronting each other over their responsibilities (and possible accountability). This provided a heavy contrast to the backdrop of a birthday party, with the men discussing how to broach the subject with the young sister when also lighting the candles on her birthday cake. Written by Dan Horrigan, this play set the bar high for the evening’s entertainment. With its sharply written dialogue and tremendous performances from the three actors, a crowded room of bar patrons became an avid audience for an evening of theatre.
The second play of the evening presented a young woman struggling to cope with ‘stress and discontentment’ in her working life. Situated on a stool next to the bar, the frenzied performance discussed what it takes to ‘fall off the edge’ and lose your mind when already vulnerable. The high anxiety of this performance was exaggerated by the accompaniment of a monosyllabic friend, agreeing pointlessly with the monologue’s already rhetorical questions.
This play’s direction (as with all the plays) showed great initiative, making use of the whole room. Whilst the main actress addressed members of the audience directly, other actors often left the make-shift stage by walking through the crowded audience to the real exits of the venue, or signalled the end of their play by leaving to drink at the bar. The surrounding and free-standing nature of the audience encircling the actors (wherever their performance was) heightened the realism in these already realistic plays, both in subject matter and in actor performances.
When each play ended, the lights were brought up and music played back in. Not only did this break up the evening nicely, separating the plays from each other, it allowed the audience members to discuss and give their own reviews (all very complimentary from what I heard). The actors seamlessly merged with the audience before their play began, new punters often unknowingly taking seats which were props in a play five minutes before. This created a unique atmosphere, never knowing where the next play is coming from or whether the too quiet people sitting next to you were next to were in fact the next in line to perform.
Next was my personal favourite of the night, Love aged 28 by Kate McCullough. The writing was its most striking feature, combining dialogue and individual character narration, the characters addressing the audience to clarify their inner thoughts on the intense conversation they were a part of.
Exploring the nature of love and sex, the play begins and ends with the question ‘have you ever tried a cigarette with a coffee and a broken heart’, first from the woman who confuses her male “date” unexpectedly with it. She criticises his promiscuity, beautifully describing every man and woman she meets as “just another branch to move out of the way”, whilst also discussing between them the inevitability of the nature of their romantic relationships.
Similar themes were further explored in the last play of the night Love and Debt in the Free-zone, featuring The Upcoming’s own journalist Sarah Milton. Living in a dystopian vision of the future (‘This is Life 3.0!’), a couple are pushed apart by their own feelings of altruism for each other, no longer able to justify their relationship as just a ‘temporary merger’ or ‘mutually profitable arrangement.’ Harangued by disturbingly cheerful advisors, a young woman has to decide what path she must take in life when her freedoms in love and career options are severely restricted. The biggest laugh of the night coming when she was told her most viable option is organ donation- ‘Entry level is a kidney!’
A Night of Pop-up Plays showed an impressive array of strong writing, directing and acting ability. The unbelievable high quality of the performances, with most of the actors having trained at Mountview Academy of Arts, and initiative shown by those working behind the scenes made Tuesday night’s show incredibly enjoyable to watch. It’s one of the most engaging, and certainly most unique theatre experiences on offer in London.
The editorial unit
Oryx Productions presents A Night of Pop-up Plays at 93 Feet East, Brick Lane.