Tough, brash, confident businessman Henry and sweet, mild former actress Amy, engaged and in love, have sworn to always be honest, true and faithful to one another. But when Amy’s school sweetheart, the sensitive and handsome Daniel asks her to return to the stage once more she finds herself almost overwhelmed with the desire to accept his offer, where artistic necessity will force her to kiss him on stage. She confidently claims her sudden desire to return to acting springs from her deep need to express her thoughts and feelings through art. But Henry suspects she is overwhelmed with sensual lust for her former love. Amy tries to stay true to her promise to always be honest to Henry – until he suddenly and unexpectedly commences his own artistic endeavour
"Particularly strong is Danny Wainwright – he plays the philistine, middle-aged Henry perfectly; it’s only afterwards, spying on him in the bar, that I realise he’s actually very young. A man to watch, perhaps?"
Baby Jesus Freak/Stage Kiss
Wed 6th – Sat 9th,
Wed 13th - Sat 16th,
Tue 19th - Fri 22nd April, 7:30pm
REVIEW Paul Vale
Literally no sooner had my plane landed this week than I was heading straight to the Fringe Theatre, or more accurately The Space in Mudchute. Those of you unfamiliar with the venue might find it very much worth a look, although it is situated at a rather inconvenient postcode on the Isle of Dogs. The quickest way to get there is by bus from Canary Wharf.
Baby Jesus Freak by Ian Winterton covers an interesting premise set in motion by the death of an evangelist and the reaction of her two adult sons. The younger son had long since joined his mothers cause whilst the elder appears to have spent a lifetime battling demons of a different sort. Winterton's play raises many questions but thankfully he has woven a human story that plays particularly well on stage.
The performances are good too with particularly astute work from Adam Lowe and Claire Dean who have the oft difficult task of making Christian fundamentalism appear rational in a modern world.
Stage Kiss is a slightly less successful, albeit extremely short play from Andrew Jones. Despite the very few major successes, audiences will rarely be interested in backstage stories. Actors are singularly peculiar creatures anyway and showing their existence off the stage rarely excites and audience.
This said, the tale tells of Amy's return to the stage before committing to marriage with her bullish fiance, Henry. The central dilemma is the emotion behind a stage kiss as opposed to a real one and quite frankly, it's not a particularly engaging argument either way. At only forty minutes however the play still manages to run out of steam.
Danny Wainwright is excellent as the pragmatic Henry and it is always a joy to see Lisa Baird on stage but this is a blunt piece of writing that needs to go back to the drawing board.
Both plays have been cleanly and clearly directed by Matthew Gould. If you get an opportunity, visit The Space. It is a great venue that appears to be desperately seeking an audience.
Writer: Ian Winterton (Baby Jesus Freak) & Andrew Jones (Stage Kiss)
Director: Matthew Gould
Reviewer: Lukas Glass
The Public Reviews Rating:
For a play about abortion, alcoholism and evangelical Christians, I certainly didn’t expect such a high laugh count. And yet, laughs is exactly what I got; although Baby Jesus Freak’s plot is serious and its themes weighty, it explores them through quick-fire dialogue and some very funny one-liners.
It helps that its central character, brilliantly played by Ben Gould, is so likeable. A crumpled anti-hero with shades of Woody Allen, Matthew is a depressive dipsomaniac divorcee who, following the funeral of his mother, starts hallucinating a teenage girl (Gemma Flannery) who says she’s his niece, Ruth. There’s just one problem: Matthew doesn’t have a niece. At least, not yet.
It soon transpires that Matthew’s brother, Daniel (Adam Lowe), has got a woman pregnant while blacked-out drunk. This would be bad enough but Daniel is a celibate evangelical Christian and the woman is Lauren (Natalie Husdan), Matthew’s ex-girlfriend with whom he is still very much in love.
So far, so soap-opera but what makes Baby Jesus Freak so interesting is what develops from this set-up. Daniel is joined by the highlight of the play, Bethany (Claire Dean; outstanding), a poisonous American zealot who is simultaneously forthright and fragile. Under her influence, Daniel is persuaded to pretend to be in love with Lauren until abortion is no longer an option.
It’s a chilling premise but writer Ian Winterton cleverly – fiendishly – muddies the waters by confronting us with Ruth. Not only is she great fun to watch – sassy, cheeky and blessed with many of the best lines – but she’s doing her best to make sure she gets born. She claims she’s a vision from God but Matthew suspects he’s just going mad. Either way, the decision as to whether to tell Lauren about the deception falls on Matthew’s shoulders. The final few scenes, though still shot through with dry humour, are heart-breaking. Recommended.
Second on the bill is Stage Kiss, also directed by Matthew Gould but written by Andrew Jones. It’s a bizarre choice to couple with Baby Jesus Freak but, taken on its own merits, it’s a fine – if somewhat slight – piece of drama. The brilliant but simple premise sees an ex-actor returns to the boards one last time because she still desperately wants to kiss her old boyfriend, much to the chagrin of her fiancé, Henry.
The four-strong cast are fantastic and obviously enjoy the Cowardesque heightened reality – that is, they loudly bray virtually every line – Gould has asked them to play. This delivery and their enthusiasm is infectious and had me giggling throughout. Particularly strong is Danny Wainwright – he plays the philistine, middle-aged Henry perfectly; it’s only afterwards, spying on him in the bar, that I realise he’s actually very young. A man to watch, perhaps?
All in all, a wonderful evening at a theatre that should be better known (and the food is fantastic!) and deserves the support of all lovers of fringe theatre.
Runs until 22nd April