For its third and final evening, this year’s Bristol Playwrights Collective festival had just over an hour to convince audience members that dragging their feet to the other side of Bristol to see two brand new shows, put on for one night only, was a good idea. Stilton and Spacesuits meets Rocks that Bleed in the new Wardrobe Theatre, showcasing new writing and innovative adaptations in the recently renovated space. The two pieces are worlds apart, yet somehow bringing out each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
Stilton and Spacesuits centres on a couple at a party struggling to enjoy themselves, resulting in a squirm-inducing argument about finding yourself. The scene channels the unfunny parts of a Bridget Jones-esque scenario, whilst a slapstick succession of fancy dress cameos from director Shaun Wood provides the saving grace of the piece. It’s somewhat telling that an inebriated five-second rendition of Moon River steals the show, forcing out a chuckle in the audience from Wood’s poise and lopsided tiara.
The evening’s full-length piece gives a theatrical adaptation of Bertie Gilbert’s short film Rocks that Bleed, following the relationship of two brothers as they face the end of the world. The naturalistic dialogue and rawness of the acting meet a heavily stylized aesthetic, creating an immersive piece which brings the sun so much closer to this part of the Earth.
The downfall of Stilton lies in its incapacity to engage the audience with anything that’s going on. Neither endearing nor exciting, the characters quickly feel irritating and the story uninteresting. The piece pushes itself into a corner, distancing its appeal and showing no identity. Once the actors through slightly stiff smiles left the stage, the theatre felt transformed. Rocks that Bleed created a universe which, this time, invites the audience to be a part of. Same number of actors, same space, and yet the heart that felt dry and the body restless were now swelling with emotion and prickled with tension. Every inch of the space was used and what felt so far away now became emotionally and sensorially all-encompassing.
Luke Brady and Ben Bridson play the two estranged brothers struggling through their inability to properly engage with each other, now pushed together in dizzying proximity in the face of the blistering and imminent end of everything they have.
The creative elements of this show congregate towards an immersive experience, director Mae-Li Evans managing in this blank space of the Wardrobe to recreate the dystopian reality of the film in an exciting and innovative manner. The tension between the two actors is tangible, the direction and performances further enhancing Gilbert’s dialogue, which although intentionally naturalistic, does suffer from the odd inconsistency and a lack of maturity.
The actors make up for this with tight and powerful devised physical sequences, linking scenes together skillfully and providing a further layer to the already deeply charged story. Brady’s tenacity travels to every corner of the room whilst Bridson’s contained explosiveness keep the audience hanging on the edge of his every word. Rocks that Bleed testifies the transformative power of the theatre and the limits to which creativity can be pushed. Intensity and emotion bleed out of every word, movement and breath from the two brothers. Although at points the plot feels disjointed in time and space, the discrepancies are rendered irrelevant by clever staging.
Colours, sounds and textures of the everyday collide with the power of an otherworldly bond which is beautifully captured on stage. Beads of sweat trickle through every pore and deep reds fill the space, as the exhausted performers and hypnotized audience watch the sun come in with a sense of helplessness and a broken heart.
Through one showcase in a singular space, boundaries were crossed and creativity explored by the two pieces. The pairing, although perhaps random, actually emphasized the possibilities and demonstrated the virtues and flaws of student theatre. Stilton and Spacesuits drowned in the space and despite its best attempts, left a resounding feeling of dissatisfaction arising from a lacklustre script.
Despite the extremes to which the pieces travelled, the evening overall was a delight. I left the Wardrobe theatre utterly content and inspired, and partly saddened that not more people experienced what I had the chance to. Bristol Playwrights Collective must be thanked warmly and encouraged to expand and prosper as a platform for student theatre to be embraced by all aspiring artists.
BPC provides creative opportunities extending past limitations that other showcases and societies may have. The festival very clearly had a universal appeal, detached from an inside joke aesthetic that tends to taint views on student theatre. A breath of fresh air that I can only hope will come around again soon, for all to benefit from.
Stilton and Spacesuits
Rocks that Bleed
Originally published on Epigram