Spur of the Moment, Deaf Dog Productions, HOME, Manchester, 15-17 January 2015

For the last few years the Re: play festival has sought to bring the best local fringe theatre of the previous 12 months back to the stage. Manchester’s thriving theatre scene features so many small venues and up and coming theatre companies that many of the best pieces of drama can go unmissed by the masses. This is what Re: play seeks to rectify. My highlight of last year, Ransack Theatre’s The Dumb Waiter, has a place on the bill, which suggests that HOME have chosen well this year. The festival runs until Jan 24th, so catch it while you can.

One of the most intriguing titles on the bill is Spur of the Moment. Produced by Manchester based company Deaf Dog, this play opened at the Royal Court Theatre when its writer, Anya Reiss, was just seventeen. Originally performed at ALRA North as a third-year final production, the play went on to win the Best New Play at the TMA Awards while Reiss herself was named as the Evening Standard’s Most Promising Playwright. It is actually the first drama school production to make its way to the Re: play stage and features the original, now graduated, cast.

Is it easy to see why the play received such accolades? In a word, yes. For a seventeen-year-old to have written such a nuanced, amusing, and socially relevant play is a very impressive feat. From the opening scene, which features pre-teen friends Delilah (Tilly Slade), Naomi (Sarah Coyne), and Emma (Chelsea Stewart) dancing to songs from High School Musical, the audience is brought onside by an acutely observational humour and a sense that the characters could easily be based on real people.

The rest of the play focuses in on the relationship between Delilah and the family lodger Daniel (Jack Alexander) as well as the unstable marriage of Delilah’s parents, Nick (Darren Kemp) and Vicky (Joi Rouncefield). Although Vicky and Nick’s relationship has its moments of tension and dark humour, it is the developments between twelve-year-old Delilah and nineteen-year-old Darren that are the most captivating.

Although the three young friends discuss how ‘hot’ they think this lodger is in the very first scene of the play, there is nothing overly sinister in the early on-stage encounters between these two characters. Daniel, in fact, seems to simply have a knack for entertaining the child he happens to share a house with. But as the play develops, the tensions in the family home seem to force the young girl to seek something more with this older man who provides the attention she craves.

Several uncomfortable scenes follow as Daniel wrestles with some pretty disturbing feelings. The visit of his girlfriend Leonie (Lucienne Browne) seems only to intensify these difficulties, and the play begins to work its awkward and thought-provoking path to a conclusion that leaves a rather bitter taste in the mouth. That this very serious and upsetting storyline manages to be told with almost relentless humour is extremely impressive, and once again, although she is likely sick of hearing it, it becomes all the more impressive when you remember that it was written by a seventeen-year-old.

High praise is deserved but there were, for me at least, some minor issues. The story of Delilah was so strong, so involving, that it negated any real interest in the side plot of Vicky and Nick. Yes, those characters needed to be there to set the tone and the situation which allows a twelve-year-old girl to profess misplaced feelings of love, but to give the standard story of a marriage in trouble because of an affair so much space seems like a mistake. It did, in fact, get a little irritating at times. Almost every scene between the couple was a repetition of the same argument, and the volume and tone at which these arguments took place often led to a feeling that the play would be better again once that scene was over. Having said that, a passage towards the end in which the couple cease arguing for the first time was tender, sweet, and successful.

Small complaints shouldn’t take away from the acting, though, which was never in doubt. Everyone played their roles well and even if Kemp and Rouncefield were a little annoying as Nick and Vicky, it was only because they were supposed to be. Coyne and Stewart were brilliant as the two young friends who brought a great deal of humour to a dark subject, and Alexander managed a difficult and demanding role extremely well. The star of the show, though, was Tilly Slade as Delilah. Although she’ll be getting further away from twelve with each performance of the play, she portrays the confusion, melodrama, and stroppiness of a pre-teen girl with aplomb. Her reactions to the almost permanent reminders that she’s just a child are perfect in their impetuousness, and, most impressive of all, her willingness to play the fool and act as only a twelve-year-old can make this a really strong and memorable performance.

So to answer an earlier question, yes – it is easy to see why the accolades have poured in for Spur of the Moment. It is Anya Reiss who probably deserves the biggest nod, though, and the fact that she has gone on to collaborate with the Library Theatre Company on Chekov’s The Seagull suggests that this is just the start of an exciting career.

Fran Slater

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