Hill Street Theatre to thrive on solo shows

Hill Street Theatre flyer. Pic: comp

Hill Street Theatre flyer. Pic: comp

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A TRAGIC princess, an Irish freedom fighter, a Doctor Who fanatic, a Dickensian gentleman, a mad Hollywood director from the golden age of film and a girl, with a hatred of skirts and a desire to be John Lennon.

These are just a few of the characters I have met at the Hill Street Theatre over the last couple of weeks.

Run by artistic director Tomek Borkowy, Hill Street Theatre has reinvented itself this Fringe as a hub for solo shows, hour-long pieces of theatre with a single actor owning the stage and commanding the audience’s attention from beginning to end.

It’s an initiative long-lacking in the Capital come August. Explaining his decision Borkowy recalls, “While a juror at the Thespis International Monodrama Festival in Germany, one of the oldest and most important solo theatre festivals in Europe, I came to realise the significant role that this genre is now playing in the development of contemporary theatre.

“The sophistication, quality and reputation of this style of performance are increasing, but there is still relatively little focus on this artform, which provides a direct, intimate and highly charged encounter between the actor (often also the writer) and the audience.”

To mark the inaugural year of solo theatre Borkowy has decided to award his annual, much-coveted Golden Cockerel Award, in recognition of excellence in a solo show.

As a juror on the award panel, I have to sit through all 16 eligible productions. It’s allowing me to rediscover a love of one-man and one-woman performances. Some have been simply astounding. Others less so. One, I thought was a parody of the genre... until I realised it wasn’t. However, there is something for everyone. At a time when bringing a show to the Festival has never been more expensive, the one-person option creates a viable outlet for performers and audiences alike. Don’t be fooled into thinking that having but one person on stage means a lack of drama. If anything, the connection between actor and audience becomes more intimate.

For example, Grace Kiley’s vulnerable depiction of Grace Kelly, in Longing For Grace, is played out in sumptuous detail. The mannequin-peopled set of Cut! evokes a black and white Hollywood lot of the 1920s, complete with maniacal director. In Dilemma, Olga Kosterina creates an absorbing abstract world in which she displays her lithe and precise prowess. Meanwhile, Claire Dowie is a sheer force of nature in Why Is John Lennon Wearing A Skirt - and heart-achingly funny too. All she needs is an old school desk and some clever clothing.

Out of the 16 shows programmed, a winner will be chosen. The successful performer will discover who they are on Saturday... which, as I write this, leaves me just a day and bit to see my last six productions.

You, on the other hand, still have a week to discover an often over-looked theatre genre which, more than any other, embraces the spirit of the Fringe.

For full details of Hill Street Theatre’s programme of plays visit www.universalartsfestival.com