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Andrew Phipps’ new LGBTQIA+ play One Year Itch has been playing at Barons Court Theatre this week, in Awkward Branch Productions’ latest theatrical venture. Starring award-winning performer Anca Vaida in the principal role of Tania, the play follows a year in the life format, looking at the characters dating mishaps as she aspires for a promotion in event management.
New writing about lesbian courtships
In a light-hearted and fresh piece of new writing, a cast of all-female and non-binary performers take their turn at portraying Tania’s many potential love interests, from the recently engaged straight person who wants to forget men altogether to the very well-to-do divorcee who is convinced Tania loves them after just two weeks. It’s a comedy about romance, where a relationship-obsessed main character practises abstinence in an attempt to get ahead in her career and discover what she wants in life.
Themes and overall direction
Online dating, sexuality, abstinence and personal growth are some of the many themes showcased throughout the comedy. Whilst I think the combination of themes works, I struggled to understand the significance of the abstinence angle to the storyline. Tania claims that she is going to abstain for a year in order to achieve a promotion, but then one of the date scenes takes place in a hotel room and features (albeit tragic) romantic sequences. Consequently, I couldn’t fully get behind the character growth and the overall direction of the play.
The relationship scenes are separated by musical hits and dance sequences, but it took me until half way through the performance to discover why. Members of the cast come on stage to help clear the set for the next segment, taking part in themed dance moves and movements. The songs played relate to the next part of the show, often featuring lyrics or a topic that is about to be portrayed. It is certainly a novel idea and quite funny when you grasp the reasoning for it, but the random style of it all disrupts the flow of the material. A little more thought around how this is presented would reduce the confusion over what the cast are doing between scenes.
Whilst most of the show is portrayed under neutral, low impact lighting, there are a couple of clever usages of spotlights. The first being Tania’s prerecorded internal thoughts when she realises that an online date is actually a man who is creepily staring at her. The intensity of the spotlight adds to the absurdity of the situation and you can’t help but laugh at the drama of the voiceover. Furthermore, the singles speed dating utilises a similar effect, with each character standing in front of the bold lighting and comically explaining what they are looking for in a relationship. Whilst the positioning didn’t quite match up with the group formation, it helps to make this scene a highlight of Phipps’ work.
Vaida portrays Tania with convincingly dry humour, solidifying the character’s personality and driving the narrative. She is supported by Iona McTaggart in the role of best friend Jayne and their friendship was one of my favourite things about the show, symbolised by a Parent Trap-inspired handshake. A further incredible comedy performance was nosy colleague Betty, brilliantly played by Tizzy Kanouche. Her acting style is a standout moment of the office scenes.
Despite my thoughts about the scene transitions, a star here is actor and choreographer Kelly Craige, who during these sections performs with great stage presence. She really knows how to sell these bold segments to an audience.
Phipps’ One Year Itch has got real promise, but the structure needs some reshaping to make the sense of direction more believable and also increase clarity around the plot. The current version feels like a montage of dating dramas, rather than a chronological account of Tania’s year in dates. The show has now finished its run at Barons Court, but I look forward to hearing what Awkward Branch produce next.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket for One Year Itch was gifted in exchange for an unbiased review.