“Coffee and cigarettes – a series of short plays united by two common pleasures” – exactly what it says on the tin.
Coffee and Cigarettes offers a night of predominantly mediocre theatre written at largely the cost of the common smoker. With ten interestingly positioned plays, each running at approximately ten to fifteen minutes per play, expect to be both pleasantly surprised and horrified by what this production has to offer. Tackling down the straight and narrow of the simple complexity of awkwardly fucked up relationships, Coffee and Cigarettes offers a humbling experience of day to day activity curbed over a ciggie and a brew.
Each play within the set tells a different tale to the last, offering something for everyone in this showcase of new writing, combined with a selection of performances from carefully edited extracts of Talking With… by Jane Martin.
With several plays daring to touch on contemporary social issues such as domestic violence, rape and infidelity, Act One opens with Adam Harris’ Triangle. A short and surprising dialogue set in the modern day, we lay witness to the conversation between two males caught in the midst of an awkward love triangle. Directed by Nicole Garbellini West, the simplicity within the movement of the piece reveals a subtlety that strikes a calming understanding of empathetic drama that leaves one touched. The piece, although well written however, suffers a messy execution, though gritty and real, and quite possibly one of the strongest pieces within the set, the audience is admittedly left deliberating the impact on the use of language and the constant need to be over told.
The same could be said for the following piece, Smoke by Eric Smith. An unconvincingly acted interpretation of new writing, the piece concerning sensitive sociological and psychological illness was portrayed in a touchy and undermining manner. Though respecting the decision to write with such risk, the scripted concept was interestingly naturalistic in dialogue and tame in direction, yet leaving behind a certain sense of unjustifiable unease with no thanks to the acting.
Following that, Sandwiched between Max the Rabbit: The Final Hit by Robert Baker, a fun and interestingly interpreted play with a strong performance from Brad Powers (though the same can’t be said for his counterpart Sarah Lemcke who delivers a painstakingly irritating version of Antonia) and A Maids Suicide, or the Sexual Life of The Sinless Bourgeoisies by Gaelle Gognau-Koerckel (which please note, left me wanting to be that maid… I say no more,) laid the highlight of the evening.
French Fries, taken from Jane Martin’s Talking With… graced us with a gratifyingly colourful performance by Ms Faith L Lawson, directed by Mr Jonathan Brantley. A well written monologue, its worth the trip just to see the talented and unique Lawson, who exits the stage leaving a tragic sense of wholeness that warms the heart, at the humble excitement amidst the monotony of living and dreaming that left the audience wanting more.
Wrapping up Act 1 we are left contemplating the arguments raised in Ms Meaghan McGurgan’s Good Riddance. Focusing on the impacts of domestic violence, it is a thought out take on a sensitive issue. Though the acting was undeniably rusty, the writing was brave and individual, leaving room for many an interpretation and a spark for debate.
Coming back to a more subdued Act 2, opening with Crabs at Dawn by Edward Nilges, McGurgan’s direction eased us back into Coffee and Cigarettes with nicety and tact. The poetic language explored with monologist technique and low key set was both fun and sensitive.
Then comes Rodeo another of Jane Martin’s wonderfully written monologues; and performed with great humour and timing from Miss Jenny Hann, was yet another highlight of the night. Refreshing and engaging, Hann performs with conviction and sincerity in delivering the beautiful artistic simplicity of Jonathan Brantley’s direction.
Following this was the slightly more disappointing Too Far by Kim Levin. Looking at the argument of sexual misconduct and implications of rape, once again in this series of plays, Levin literally takes it too far. The bilingual text adds a nice dynamic to the piece, with the actors’ body language and expression revealing the story to even the uni-lingual; too much language was unnecessary and left the piece slightly predictable.
Finally, Derrick Stone’s directorial interpretation of Floyd Dells, Sweet and Twenty left us with a sweet and angelic performance from Ms Aisling McDonnell and Mr Mark O’Leary. With a great on-stage chemistry and a romantic subtlety, McDonnell and O’Leary convincingly portrayed the love between characters Helen Egerton and George Brooke. Although a little long, this extract rounded off the night nicely, reminding us all that throughout the stressful times that lead us reaching towards coffee and cigarettes, it is really love that gets us through.
Over all, nothing ground breakingly complex or theatrically challenging hit the stage in The Fringe Studio tonight, but an endearing and empathetic night of run of the mill entertainment, lodged somewhere between socially challenging issues, and subjective trials and tribulations left me incredibly satisfied with what I saw.
The Location – The Fringe Theatre Studio, HK - A great venue for a showcase such as this. Intimate enough, but not too imposing a studio space. Arrive 30 minutes earlier and enjoy the pleasure of witnessing young Hong Kong musicians showcasing their talents whilst trying their hardest to challenge the socio-normative constructs of today’s society down in the bar. Overall a nice, atmospheric venue, with reasonably unhelpful and a tad grouchy staff at the front desk.
With 20% of proceeds going to charitable organization Sunrise children’s village – a Cambodian orphanage – that itself is enough to justify the worth of the $180 a seat tickets.