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Reboot Festival 2023 – Week 1 review

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I always think of September as the month of new beginnings, with the start of the academic year and the end of the summer. In the world of London pub theatres, this September is all about new writing, as Reboot Festival launches at Barons Court Theatre. In partnership with Kibo Productions, the theatre showcases three different line-ups of short plays over a period of three weeks. The creative team behind the festival have hand picked 17 productions from over 400 submissions. Offering a platform to up and coming writers from around the world, I was excited to attend the opening night of the festival yesterday.

Kat Masterson outside Reboot Festival 3 at Barons Court Theatre, London

Instead of formally star rating each production, I will be sharing my thoughts on each play as part of a wider week one review and mentioning any highlights or suggestions for the future. Each of them are around 15-20 minutes in length and have been arranged into sets of three which are separated by a short interval.

Little Black Dress by John Mabey

The first show of the week one line-up focuses on identity within relationships and not hiding your true self. Directed by Pamela Farrugia, it offers a completely unique perspective on acceptance, which is refreshing given how often we hear negative stories in the arts about experiences around identity and sexuality. Set in a couple’s home, for such a short production it is brilliant to see props and set design used so well. The props add symbolism and complexity to the piece, making you question their impact on the story.

John Mabey’s Little Black Dress explores some important themes, but unfortunately the play falls short for me as there just isn’t enough time to truly understand the principal characters’ thoughts and feelings. We are dropped straight into the play’s climax and it paves the way for some really transparent conversations between the couple. Whilst the decision to include anxiety-filled dialogue is realistic and conscientious, I would have liked to have seen Erica Everett and Emanual Silva let go a little more and bring more passion to their roles. It’s an emotional play that can arguably delve deeper in its dialogue and recreation of characters.

Reboot Festival 3 leaflet in front of the Barons Court Theatre stage, London

Just Nod by Anna Clart

Just Nod focuses on sisters and the impact mental health can have on relationships. Featuring two contrasting characters: one bold and outgoing (played by Pilar Malo) and the other clearly experiencing anxiety and distress (Georgia Alistair), this creation by writer Anna Clart expresses the lengths that humans will go to make sure their family members are okay. Vittorio Parri has carefully directed the play so that the weight of the material (and family) rests on Malo’s shoulders. Through playful dialogue, the character never gives up on their sister, with Malo using light humour to diffuse some of the tension.

This weighting does leave the play somewhat rushed towards the end. I struggled with the voiceover and physical theatre elements, as they completely change the tone of the material in a very short time. Bringing these features in slightly earlier would make the latter half of the work easier to follow, bringing a sense of consistency to the overall pacing.

Closing Doors by John Minigan

For the final play of the first act the audience is transported to a US school at the end of an unplanned drill to teach the staff and students how to act in the awful scenario of an onsite shooting. The teachers are played by Erin Hunter and Kristin Duffy and they are discussing what went wrong in the drill, the various parental complaints and the fact that education premises are no longer a safe space. The characters are at loggerheads and their discourse manages to brilliantly capture the frustration of a split nation on a small scale, providing different perspectives on this very real issue in the USA.

I was thoroughly impressed by how Minigan has taken a very raw and painful topic and made us reflect on it through the teacher’s perspectives. The material has been directed with sensitivity by Sharon Willems, with impactful voiceovers about the tragedies in America closing out the play. I look forward to seeing what comes next for Closing Doors, as it has the power to insight change in my opinion.

Reboot Festival 3 full poster inside Barons Court Theatre, London

Bound Set by Stephen Dierkes 

The highlight of the night for me was Stephen Dierkes’ comedy about marriage. Without giving too much away, the play focuses on a couple that have been kidnapped and in their time in an unnamed location, we truly get to know their personalities, relationship and each other’s flaws as they unpick the ropes restricting their freedom.

It’s incredibly funny, largely due to Dierkes’ creative use of dialogue, specifically around the intentional mistakes within idiomatic phrases. Brilliantly performed by Sophie Kisilevsky and Aidan Parsons, there is even opportunity for audience interaction and this has been carefully curated by director Sebastião Marques Lopes so that it is natural and not forced. My only criticism of this play is the amount of time dedicated to the banter between the husband and wife; you can clearly see that there is something going on underneath the humorous surface which is just waiting to be explored further.

​My Ghost by Nina Tolstoy

Sombre is the word I would use to describe Nina Tolstoy’s My Ghost, with its bleak lighting and perspective on neurodegenerative diseases. Featuring a doctor (Luke Lindeman), care worker (Benita Charlena Lambrechts) and patient diagnosed with Alzheimers or Dementia (Michael Molino), it highlights the difficulties of getting older and the decline of the human mind. Molino convincingly plays the patient, showcasing the upset, confusion and rage caused by such diseases. Jagoda Kamov’s direction makes you feel as if you have stepped inside the main character’s mind, cycling over events with no knowledge of the repetition.

Whilst the representation of the disease is deeply moving, the overall work feels a little awkward. The doctor and carer lack human compassion and have a minimal role, with the focus being on Molino and their daily troubles. In terms of the future, the play could benefit from greater involvement from the supporting roles or increased clarity around their wider impact on the story.

Reboot Festival 3 poster inside Barons Court Theatre, London

The Dating Pool by Arianna Rose 

The final play features a central character played by Rebecca Hunt, who together with their younger selves (Sophie Leach, Alicia Gould, Wren Perkins and Adriana Cartade) looks back on past relationships and their life thus far. Full of the knowledge of life, the group reflect on former experiences and learn from each other’s mistakes. Director Hannah Gooden has curated a really supportive atmosphere on stage between the characters, which makes this an uplifting closing act of the line-up.

Water-related sound effects and cool lighting hues add to the overall pool metaphor running through Arianna Rose’s writing, but five characters on the Barons Court stage feels a little overcrowded. In turn, it reduces the overall visual impact of the characters swimming towards Hunt as they are about to dive head first into the world of dating. In terms of future development, it would be great to see The Dating Pool staged in a slightly larger setting. It would strengthen the metaphors of the piece and allow for smoother visual transitioning between the character interactions. In conclusion I thoroughly enjoyed the play and found the reflective concept inspiring.

Overall thoughts about the first line-up

This sequence of short plays are in action at Barons Court Theatre until Saturday, before the line-up changes again on Tuesday 12th September. Despite being created by completely different writers, the presentation feels extremely cohesive with its focuses on people, connections and their relationships. I look forward to hearing more from the writers in the future, particularly John Minigan and Stephen Dierkes.

Reboot Festival 3 leaflet outside Barons Court Theatre, London

If you live in London or frequently travel into the city for shows, I thoroughly recommend making time for a visit to Reboot. New writing is the future of theatre and at £15 per ticket (£10 for concessions), a visit to Barons Court is a great way to experience emerging voices. I will be back at the theatre next week for week 2.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*My ticket for Reboot Festival was gifted in exchange for a review.



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