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Theatre review: Palimpsest One at Upstairs at the Gatehouse (Camden Fringe)

18:34 03 August 2012

The Beekeeper

The Beekeeper's Wife, one of the short stories in Palimpsest One at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Photo by Peter Corkhill

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Four short plays crammed into one hour in Camden Fringe Festival production

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»Part of the Camden Festival Fringe, Palimpsest One is a presentation of four short plays over one hour.

Two plays are extended monologues played to a silent interlocutor. August Strindberg’s The Stronger shows all the hallmarks of the Swedish writer’s obsession with the human soul.

Mrs X meets Miss Y for hot chocolate and reveals that she knows her young friend is having an affair with her husband.

Both women appear trapped by their love for this unseen man and we are left with little hope for either’s future happiness.

In Ross Howard’s Frisky & The Panda Man a zoo-keeper is in love with his panda and waxes lyrical to a reporter on the subject, whilst his beloved panda is choking to death, unbeknownst to him, in the background. Kevin Hand gives a strong performance and lifts Howard’s words off the page with ease.

The third play is an excerpt from Yugoslavian writer Mima Vulovic’s Medea Pastiche, which throws themes at the audience about the ‘deepening amnesia of modern life’ and how childbirth makes women finally dominant over men – but at what cost?

Finally, The Bee-Keeper’s Wife by Afsaneh Gray is a charming and near-perfect short-play. It is A Doll’s House for a modern audience and translates Ibsen’s house-wife Nora into a woman whose husband ties her to a chair and tells her she is mentally ill to stop her leaving the house. Wonderfully performed and acutely observed, it was worth the trip to Highgate for these fresh 15 theatrical minutes.

Palimpsest One proves that short plays aren’t about lazy writers or economically-minded producers. Rather, it’s about the fine art of economy of language and conciseness combined with big ideas. This is at its most successful when the directors and actors understand that they are not in a two hour play and thus attack the piece with energy, specificity and boldness. This didn’t happen with every piece, but there is enough here to pass an entertaining hour.

* Palimpsest One was at Upstairs at the Gatehouse as part of the Camden Fringe Festival.

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