Festival 46 is a vivacious little festival of new writing at King’s Head Theatre. All the pieces are short – perfect theatre for hot summer days at Islington’s pub venue. They are snippets of verve and creative learning; all the shows are directed and by produced by the theatre’s trainees. The King’s Head is a crucial venue for training new directors and this festival gives them a chance to get involved in all the aspects of production, from scripts and casting, to press invitations and direction.
Turf, by Irish playwright Margaret Perry, fits between the genres of kitchen sink drama and naturalistic sci-fi. A couple – Eddie (Royce Cronin) and Anya (Laura Harling) – are starting their lives together in a small house in an up-and-coming borough of London. Cronin plays Eddie with a banal kindness. Anya is secretive and illusive. Luke W. Robson’s set aptly captures the simplicity of a first home – a sofa and kitchen trolley painted the picture for us. All seems to be going well, until their house (which Eddie owns) is invaded by plant life and a ghostly presence. It’s a sort of metaphor for the difficultly of finding space in the city to put down roots.
The point that it’s really hard to buy a house in our capital city felt forced. We’d have got the point from the narrative without it being spelled out in a radio broadcast. There’s another political theme, about the judgement of the homeless, which the script could have dealt with in a more subtle manner. Nevertheless, these were important and timely themes to consider, especially for younger generations in London. Incidental music between scenes successfully created some atmosphere but the fades were too abrupt.
Much about Turf was far fetched and lacked proper character motivation. It seemed unlikely that Eddie would believe that nettles were appearing in his kettle and ivy was growing up through his bath as a natural process. And it was even more unconvincing that Anya – a rather bland, steady character – could seduce the new owner of her repossessed house, hide the fact her dead mother was haunting it, then steal it from him.
The two storylines were confusingly interwoven, and what seemed to be an attempt at clues and reveals provided very little pay off. Why was the ghost of Anya’s mother gardening in her house? Why could Anya see her and Eddie couldn’t? Why, after discovering that his girlfriend had used him to get her old house back, did Eddie not confront her about her feelings for him?
I wanted to feel sympathetic towards Anya – a girl who’d lost her job, mother and home, in the space of three months. But the play gave Harling very little room to develop a complex, believable character I could like. There were humorous one liners and the beginning was very touching but Turf spun too far away into the ridiculous to be particularly entertaining.
Festival 46 is at the King’s Head Theatre until 31 July. Find out more on the King’s Head Theatre website.