Original student writing once more takes the spotlight , this time in Buttered Toast’s first ever showcase. Named aptly, ‘The Spread’ was an all-you-can-eat buffet of the delectations of performance. There were crowded scenes and monologues, spoken word and poetry, and even original song-writing which divided the two halves of the showcase. And even though the topics and the styles of performance were all across the board, one thing that distinctly united all the pieces performed that night, was the level of dedication and personal input that each member brought to the table.
Shaheen Chowdry framed the set with both poetry and rap. In conversation with him, his choice to make his final performance a rendition of Kendrick Lamar’s song ‘You’ was based on his ‘awareness of the links between poetry and rap’. One that can be frequently disregarded, but when brought to new heights proves that the contemporary genre has something to offer to our conception of poetry. The decision to add a saxophone instrumental in between the powerful verses is one which also effectively created a sincere dialogue between the spoken and the played. As his top tip for writing your own piece Chowdry suggests that ‘you should be really impassioned about writing what you’re writing about.’
Empty Shop was the venue, and t gave the audience an intimate experience, one which was crucial in both Simon Fearn’s ‘Circe’ and Lucy Knight’s and Charlie Norton’s ‘Ellipses’. In ‘Circe’ the audience was presented with a monologue performed by Steph Sarrat. She gave a rousing and multi-faceted performance, whose intention, Fearn says was to make the audience ‘sympathise with someone you really don’t want to’. How this was achieved was through a ‘friendly, colloquial, and down-to-Earth’ delivery. The speech thematically introduced Greek myth into the very modern setting of the university campus.
‘Ellipses’ was similarly dark at times, and offered an honest picture of the struggle of two best friends, Ella and Libby, with mental illness. Even though the set was only two chairs it constantly reflected the mood of the girls, first turned towards each other, and at times when their miscommunication had reached an apex, they were turned back to back.
If the showcase, was diverse thematically it also took us beyond our geographical borders. Caspar Bayliss’ piece ‘Life Outside the Diamond’ was about an American family and the conflict of father and son over baseball. And although this is the surface of the play, what is underlying is the conflict of points of view on how life should fundamentally be lived, coloured by pent-up regrets and feelings of bitterness. Bayliss says that the piece was ‘an homage to Arthur Miller’, the playwright he’s most inspired by, and that for aspiring writers, he recommends you ‘know what you’re talking about, or do your research’.
The other piece, similarly geographically displaced was ‘Juan and Paco’ by Liam McNiff. The plot was focused around the characters the piece is named after, both guards at the walls of Ceuta, preventing immigrants from climbing over and gaining access from Morocco to the EU state of Spain. As a ‘cold wind blows over’ from Europe, and immigration concerns are the hot-topic in most Western countries, so the piece feels like an apt reminder about the humanity we are losing by perpetuating strict border regulations. What begins as an almost humorous personal exploration of the guard’s lives soon transforms into a tragic fable with universal implications.
Finally, there was a sense that most of the pieces were aware of their performative nature. Zac Tiplady’s ‘Beyond My Own Mind’ monologues addressed the audience directly, while ‘Superstition Ain’t the Way’ by Danielle Buckley was a farcical exploration of actors’ superstitions, played out while rehearsing for Macbeth. It was important, notes Tiplady, that the writers had the opportunity to be ‘involved as much as [they] wanted’. The result was a multi-vocal performance extravaganza, one which is certain to return next term.
Find out more about the company here.
Poster: Buttered Toast