Tag Archives: Kayla Feldman

“Right Dishonourable Friend” at the Vault Festival

Here is solid work from debut playwriting duo Phoebe Batteson-Brown and Eoin McKenna that lives up to the name of co-producing theatre company Metamorph. The piece is a political satire that becomes a heavy drama and shifts tone to great effect.

At first, Right Dishonorable Friend feels like sitcom territory. With a politician from the South parachuted into a Northern constituency, there are plenty of satisfying, if safe, jokes. The cast is confident, the delivery strong, and the audience happy.

Politician Perdita needs a campaigning issue and, since she loves “the gays”, decides to champion facilities for LGBTQ+ youth, an issue close to the heart of her communications manager Dan. It’s a little sad this seems an unlikely campaign for her to pick, but never mind. The story gets serious when she reneges on her pledge with tragic consequences.

The play itself seeks to campaign and its political content is clear (the production promotes the charity Stonewall Housing). The argument is presented powerfully – but might be handled better theatrically. Batteson-Brown and McKenna, who also perform, have written big roles for themselves that showcase their talents. But director Kayla Feldman, who does a good job keeping the action swift, might demand more nuance. Batteson-Brown’s comedy skills are unquestionable while McKenna brings sincerity to his role – but both are good enough performers to blur the lines between being funny and serious more.

Rachael Hilton and Eoin McKenna in 'Right Dishonourable Friend' at the Vault Festival
Rachael Hilton and Eoin McKenna

The characters aren’t flat because we do see more than one dimension. But Dan changes from competent and quiet too quickly and it’s too obvious he’d make a better MP than his boss. You might even find him a little preachy? Perdita moves from a ditzy posh girl to showing a machiavellian side too late. Any sympathy for the character falls flat and while pitying her is a big a call, seeing more of the pressure on her could be interesting. Rachael Hilton, who plays three characters of very different ages, comes off very well; establishing each role quickly, getting great laughs and bringing sensitivity to the role of teenage Alex, Hilton is hugely impressive.

The potential for Right Dishonourable Friend is clear; it’s just a question of a little more polish. Improvements will not even be that hard: more colourful pasts are hinted at for both characters, I even suspect the material is already written, which would help enormously. And it would be good to see more of Alex, if only to aid Dan’s final speech. But it’s a brave move to end a piece with lots of comedy on a downbeat note – it makes the conviction behind the play stirring and the show certainly gets my vote.

Until 18 February 2023


“Bare E-ssentials 3: with a Vengeance” from Encompass Productions

This live stream of new writing was back for a third evening with a sense of celebration. Its creators have won an award! And they’re starting a fun competition for viewers to name each night – the next one is on 26 August. With congenial host Liam Fleming creating a kind of community before our eyes, this back-to-basics ‘micro theatre’ company is thriving online.

It’s the material that counts, of course, and the four plays presented are of a high standard: writing, direction and performances. There is a bumpy start. Rules by Lucy Jamieson didn’t excite me: the humour behind two flatmates talking about STDs failed, despite Karina Holness and Esme Cooper trying very hard. But it’s a debut piece and Jamieson can learn a lot from the experience.

Two monologues showed care, cleverness and depth. Emma Dawson’s Stones Around My Neck makes you question who is gaslighting who in a skilful developing scenario. Kayla Feldman’s confident direction of Deborah Garvey is spot on. Listen by Jacquie Penrose is a cracking piece. Masterfully handling its short duration, adding just enough mystery into a vague apocalyptic setting, this phone message about a relationship that has broken down is great stuff. Aided by Fleming’s direction and (for once) the filming, an emotive performance from Amelia Parillon (pictured top) proves gripping.

Impressive as the previous piece is, my highlight was James C Ferguson’s The Chair – a deliciously wicked comedy sketch with teeth. Where the bite actually comes from is the source of surreal humour as we learn “the particulars” of two dinner guests’ disappearance. Ferguson’s language has a distinctive quality. And performers Andrew Gruen and Amy Fleming, under Jonathan Woodhouse’s direction, control their overblown characters very well indeed.

My only problem came at the end of Bare Essentials 3: with a Vengeance. Although bringing all the performers back for a bow was deserved, I still feel uncomfortable clapping a computer screen. Wouldn’t it be great to get back to real-life curtain calls? With Encompass Productions usually based in bars, maybe someone could lend a pub garden? Given what has already been achieved, if anyone can manage this next step it’s this team. Fingers crossed.