The time for new writing is now. With the eyes of the world firmly fixed on the London stage following the international successes of War Horse and Jerusalem, combined with the impending uncertainty of the Olympics, there has never been a more important time to support new writing in Britain. A Friend of a Friend is a company established to give young writers and performers a platform to share their work and gauge the response of a live audience. First Draft, the company’s aptly named first outing, comprised of six short pieces rounded off by a somewhat adventitious sketch troupe called FunBags.
There is a tendency amongst budding writers to try and wow their audience by showing off the breadth of their emotional capacity in as short a time as possible. The result is, more often than not, a bombastic and off putting production that seems somehow to demand more of an audience than it gives. Much of the work showcased in First Daft dives headfirst into this trap with careless abandon but Robin Johnson and Jon Barton provide some much appreciated light relief whilst demonstrating a keen wit and a real understanding of rhythm and pace.
Johnson’s Wildehouse was a banter filled tribute to (you guessed it) Oscar Wilde which borrowed, perhaps a little too greedily, from the great man himself. With creativity, charm and a tongue firmly placed in cheek, Johnson’s cast won over the audience with some comedy gems. A politician described as “Farther left than a starter fork at a nine course banquet” was received with particular enthusiasm. Although the playfully verbose script overwhelmed the actors at times, one cannot help but feel that, with a little direction, this team could produce some truly exciting work.
Similarly, Jon Barton gives a fresh take on a very tired scenario. As any avid theatre goer knows, a speech from the ‘therapist’s chair’ is as overdone as a queue of people at the bus stop. Rarely, though, are these sketches so witty and well paced as The Corner Fence. Speedy, boisterous and just a little bit silly, Morag Sims and Nick Ruben played it perfectly, with the solid support of Violet Ryder, as the couple looking to enjoy being apart from each other.
With some sparks of real talent, only time and hard work can tell of the good work that could be produced by this group of predominantly young artists and performers. Having said that, whilst experimentation is a much needed part of the creative process, the understanding of an audience must be at the centre of the work. Although First Draft contained some really great moments, this was ultimately an evening designed for the writers and not for a paying audience.”