SUSANNAH BAIN reviews the Significant Other Festival at The Vaults.

The Pensive Federation’s The Significant Other Festival is currently running for its sixth year following the same very simple idea: ten new ten-minute plays are created and polished in just ten days. (Although this year ten has been stretched to eleven). Writers are given five days to produce scripts, which are handed to directors and actors who have five days to stage them. This year, not only do each of the pieces deal with the notion of ‘significant others’, but are also connected to some form of weather. Each piece bears in its title a different weather condition: Gust, Haze and Sunny Spells amongst others. The brevity of each performance, and indeed of the time given to create them, inevitably leads to difficulties: it is hard for a writer to produce something interesting and meaningful in such a short stage time, just as it is difficult for an actor to develop a character and establish a connection with the audience with only ten minutes in front of them. Despite, or perhaps because of, these hurdles that themselves ultimately define the festival, something quite fascinating is put on stage.

The show opens with a goldfish. Anthony Cozens’ Humid sees a young couple at a funfair arguing because Miles (Michael Shon) has won a goldfish for his girlfriend Izzy (Olivia Neagrean), and subsequently shaken it to death. Yet there is more to the scenario than just accident. Miles committed this brazen act of pescicide because he was scared the animal was a ‘gateway pet’ — after a goldfish comes a dog, and then a child, and then more children. The confessional twist is both witty and touching. One cannot help but empathise with his fear and feeling of defencelessness in the face of extreme and overwhelming affection. He feels both willing and exposed. This opening establishes the mood for the rest of the performances. Bar a few exceptions, the shows consistently and strongly brought together comedy and depth.

Image courtesy of The Pensive Federation.

Despite the opening piece’s fairly traditional themes of love and relationships, Significant Other also honed in on more modern issues. Rob Greens’s Overcast explores Tinder: Christi Van Clarke plays a young woman, Becca, who catfishes men online, and then invites them for booty-calls at the address of a middle-aged couple. She watches them through a pair of binoculars, peering down from a hill as young men humiliate themselves. She admits to us she is a virgin, and never has been on a date, yet she knows the language of flirtation well enough to pretend, and to seduce these men. As in Cozens’ Humid, there is some focus on the disruption and manipulation of communication. Although it is revealed that several of the main characters have strong and authentic feelings for different individuals, the most important message of this play is the pain inflicted via social media, as well as the complexities it brings to modern day romance.

Brian Eley’s Cold Front sensitively examines the difficulties of friendship as a trio try to navigate their way into adult life. Reece Connolly’s Thaw takes us back to the dead goldfish, in this case a childhood pet deceased after a drunken accident. Beyond its smoothly-delivered comedy, there is both melancholy and hope: the goldfish becomes symbolic of something dead, but simultaneously the beginning of a friendship between a man’s girlfriend and his sister. The event of Gary the goldfish’s death is the beginning of an emotional openness that displaces the severe and judgemental relationship between the two women. It is only when the group talk to one another that they begin to get along.

Image courtesy of The Pensive Federation.

At its heart, this year’s Significant Other Festival staged the frequent difficulties of understanding and communication in modern relationships. There are things unsaid, things people are scared to say, repressed emotions, the lot. Weather conditions themselves become synonymous with ups and downs. As we get swept up in online communication we are losing our connections with each other. Nothing exemplifies this more than the final piece Frances Bushe’s Sunny Spells. While the title suggests we might expect a happy ending, we are in fact met with a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek musical in which two sisters and a boyfriend contemplate sending their father into the ‘Sunny Spells Nursing Home’. One moment was particularly striking, a song where each time the boyfriend (Clark Alexander) shares his pain of having to live with his partner’s ageing father, his girlfriend replies ‘what was that?’ Despite their intimacy, when it comes to discussing his feelings and thinking beyond the cold pragmatics of price and convenience, she struggles to engage. It’s hard to blame her because, like many of the characters we meet in The Significant Other Festival, this seems to be a product of our modern day.

The Pensive Federation’s The Significant Other Festival ran at The Vaults from 14th – 18th March. Find more information here.

Featured image courtesy of pensivefederation.com