The Little Black Box, Bristol (Tue 29 Nov-Sat 3 Dec)

Rating 2.5 / 5

THEATRE ‘Headlines’, directed by Bristol-based New Yorker Nancy Medina and bringing together an international creative team, is a mosaic of six ten-minute plays each dealing with a major news event from 2011. The structure of the production is refreshingly quirky: each play is framed by a segment of headline reports in progressively dumbed-down format, ranging from a sternly delivered recap of headlines through the decades to the breathy conveyance of pseudo-scientific ‘news’ at the start of a lifestyle programme.

The plays themselves vary from direct involvement in newsworthy events (Dom Rowe’s ‘Product Displacement’), via cynicism and disillusionment (Simon Harvey Williams’ ‘Fries to Go’), to use of the news as a distraction from one’s own shambolic life (J. Anthony Roman’s ‘Older Faults’).

There are flashes of brilliant energy from the cast, a varied team of performers working together towards a complex production. Alexis McDougall is especially delightful as the superficial and vacuous populist liberal Amy in Diana Stahl’s ‘Together-ness’: a stereotypical naive supporter of the Occupy movement who does not quite grasp the issues involved, but is nonetheless enthusiastic about the movement in a vague sticking-it-to-The-Man kinda way. Alice Maria Sparey deserves special kudos for her chilling acappella rendition of Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ at the end of Lotty Morris’s ‘Shadows’. Finally, the most palpable onstage chemistry comes from Dee Sadler and Ian Kane, who paint a heart-warming picture of the friendship between an ageing working-class duo in Alison Farina’s ‘Night Cafe’.

However, for a production taking its inspiration from (among other things) “a year marked by revolution”, ‘Headlines’ is marred by the fact that none of the short plays leads directly (although there is reference to them) on the events of this year's Arab Spring – the most significant socio-political event of 2011, if not of the last decade. While it's obviously hard to write convincingly about peoples and places you know little about, one of the ten-minute pieces could have tackled how the Spring has affected UK-based Middle Eastern communities, or even how Europeans and Americans have been inspired by it (the Occupy movement being a case in point).

Generally speaking, these plays err on the safe side of news, both in the choice of headlines tackled, and in the clean-cut, middle-of-the-road approach to the issues involved – more of a bird’s eye view than a down-and-dirty engagement with the dark undercurrents and ramifications of headlining events in all their complexity. Perhaps not the answer, then, to all your questions regarding the complex current state of the world, but a decent evening's entertainment nonetheless. (Regina Papachlimitzou)

Copyright Regina Papachlimitzou 2011