New writing nights are a magical space. To see the fresh new efforts of creatives is a thrilling experience. These are spaces for experimentation, for the seeds of ideas to germinate and begin their growth into mighty behemoths of the theatre forest. Edinburgh hits and theatrical triumphs have often started life in the humble realms of new writing nights, and after the year of lockdown isolation and pandemic stresses, it was an even more magical experience returning to one of these nights of showcasing new creative works with Circle Theatre’s The Inner Circle.
The space which Circle Theatre have chosen for this night is in itself an evocative and atmospheric one – the low ceilinged, vault space of Zed Alley creates a sense of primordial storytelling, the electric candles dotted around the peripheries of the stage giving an almost occult feeling to the night’s proceedings. It felt as if the ancient theatrical muses were being conjured up in this evening of six monologues, the spirits of artistic sharing being resurrected after a year of creative strife. Indeed, The Inner Circle is much more than just a scratch night of new writing, it is an experience – an opportunity to enjoy the works of others but also the space in which to forge new creative connections, and executive producer come MC of the night, Jonathan R. Parsonage, beautifully handles this balance of sharing and connecting.
The showcase offered a brilliantly diverse range of narratives, moving from comedy to tragedy to the utterly surreal with unfaltering skill. We open with Daisy Kennedy’s Refreshing Facebook on a Fag Break, brilliantly performed by Petra Jones and directed by Freya Taylor-Baraclough. Jones captures the frustrations of working in a creative field with little to no reward or recognition, and the jealousies that are fuelled by social media are hilariously relatable. Our next monologue, Matt, is presented by a triptych of Bens – writer Ben Banyard, director Ben Jenkins, and performer Ben Nash – and the piece explores depression and attempted suicide in men with beautiful care and nuance. Act I of the night is concluded with Thomas Besley’s Echo, directed by Simone Einfalt and performed to perfection by Nina Bright. This modern retelling of the story of Echo and Narcissus (here turned into the female Narcissa) is a sumptuous feast of lyrical spoken verse and potent imagery, and the fragility of Echo is brilliantly captured by Bright. The second half of the night provides both comedic and more outlandishly surreal tales, opening with Ruby Butcher’s fantastically funny An Observation on Flirting. Directed by Rosie Tricks and performed by Amy Harris, the use of stillness and pause is expertly utilised to enhance the beats of the gags, and Harris gorgeously captures the toe curling awkwardness of flirting in public. Georgie Bailey’s The Fibster brings a more pressure cooker, psychological thriller element to the night’s proceedings, with Gary Owston’s direction of performer Emma Wilkes honing in on the caged, trapped atmosphere of Bailey’s writing; Wilkes is beautifully mercurial in her role, at times tragic and grotesque, and others wickedly funny and cruel. The night closes with Christopher Brett Bailey’s utterly surreal the greatest mistake i ever made, directed by Casey Lloyd and performed by Elliot Winter. This utterly bonkers script is played with utter conviction by Winter, who allows the ridiculousness of this world to land with bizarre believability; it is a wonderfully weird performance.
In all, this was a night of absolutely stellar work, from both a writing and performance perspective. While I think it could have benefitted from some trigger warnings given before certain pieces, The Inner Circle triumphs with its programme of glorious new writing. If the quality of this night’s work is anything to go by, I’ll be counting down the days until the next Circle Theatre production.