The brainchild of director Charlotte Gwinner, currently keeping audiences on tenterhooks with her much lauded production Our New Girl, Angle provides a professional showcase for new plays by members of the public. After successfully running a project in east London, Gwinner and her team have now turned their attention to the west. Initiating a ‘call for plays’ campaign they garnered 129 plays with 80 entries coming from writers who’d never even set foot in a theatre before.
Now the two winners, Mediah Ahmed and Neil Daley, are having their work produced at the Bush Theatre’s new, versatile upstairs studio space. We begin with Ahmed’s pocket-sized epic, Repentance. This is a play of light and dark with some delicious changes of pace. Centring on a crisis between spiritual purity and earthly practicality, the play features a glittering performance from Mandeep Dhillon as a young Muslim girl who wants to understand the mind of God. Shane Zaza also delivers a nuanced performance as the decent young man who gets her into bed.
Repentance is staged behind a wall of paper with each square of playing space dynamically torn open by designer Dick Bird. This creates a few sight-line issues, but the intimacy of these small platforms – and shards of celestial light that break through – compensate for this.
The piece as a whole has a sense of the otherworldly but the dilemmas Dhillon portrays are very human. Ahmed perhaps overeggs the pudding towards the end of the play, but for the most part she displays a remarkable lightness of touch.
Daley’s much more streetwise second offering, Behind the Lines, is equally assured, charged with the kind of energy many more experienced playwrights would envy. The performance space is cordoned off by police tape and the action plays out within this limited area, often at very close range, and often aimed directly at you.
The play explores the consequences of gang culture and follows the lives of five young people as they try to piece together what happened on this street corner. Dhillon again impresses, this time as the wisecracking, gum chewing Michelle. As with her previous role, she combines intensity with vulnerability and is compelling to watch. Zaza and Ade Oyefeso are engagingly energetic as young men who dream of producing music in LA but right now are more concerned with scraping together enough change for some fried chicken. Femi Wilhelm brings to his role a sense of quiet maturity. There is an abiding sense of hope to this piece: change is possible and these cycles can be broken.
This is a play with a clear message. Perhaps the most affecting moment comes when the character of Darren, up until then an innocent bystander, finds a knife in his hand. Daniel Anthony’s vivid reliving of this moment gives a palpable sense of how events can escalate out of a person’s control, how trivial acts can lead to funerals.
Though neither play is perfect, they’re both potent in their way and Blanche McIntyre, a deserved winner at this year’s Offies, directs these two punchy pieces with great élan and urban lyricism.