Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey
Feast from the East is a series of eight short plays from INK Festival, showcasing the playwriting talent from East Anglia; they’re on the road and in London. There are a couple of heavy hitters in there too; Richard Curtis (Love Actually, most good Hugh Grant films) has penned a play with his daughter Scarlett Curtis, Another Suitcase in Another Hall. It’s the perfect opener to the Feast, a gentle comedic snack that involves flying suitcases and a thwarted song.
It’s been a banner week of short plays for me, and it’s not a medium I usually get to see a lot of. That’s one of the stated purposes of Feast from the East; to show an “under-utilised artform”. In this it completely succeeds – it’s really refreshing to see such punchy, perfectly-formed plays. Nothing drags here because there isn’t enough time for it to. Every word and action is measured and purposeful, in a way that feels satisfying to watch.
There’s a lot of variety here too – from the unexpected social traps that come with getting older in Invisible Irene to a The Tempest-inspired indictment of isolationism in After Prospero. There’s no real theme or common thread, which is to its credit – it’s like a really pleasant theatrical rollercoaster. Feast is right, though it might have more in common with an upmarket buffet.
That said, there’s some variation in quality in the plays – it’s not an incredible flaw necessarily, perhaps just a question of taste more than anything else. Nothing is really a disappointment, just slightly under-cooked, especially when contrasted against more remarkable offerings.
Luckily the acting – recurring actors jump into each short play – is exemplary, especially considering the tone jumping from comedic to social commentary in a flash. Standouts include Will Howard in Mixed Up (written by James McDermott), a painfully romantic monologue, delivered excellently by Howard; Ed Jones in both Another Suitcase and the hilarious That’s Great! (Shaun Kitchener), where he consistently nails his comedic cues (a trickier feat than you would think); and Ann Bryson in Invisible Irene (Jackie Carreira), a confident and layered performance.
Finally, props have to go to the set designer; as mentioned, these are very different plays, and set changes happen in a flurry of movement, with props being handled onto the stage by the non-performing actors. The result is seamless, each set appropriate, no matter the subject matter.
My verdict? A feast indeed, and a worthy showcase of the short play form.
INK Festival: Feast from the East runs at Tristan Bates Theatre until 18 May 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.