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15 Minute Theatre
Published on Thursday, 12 July 2012

3 starsUnderground Venues, Theatre
4, 9, 19 Jul, 9:00pm-9:45pm; 15 Jul, 2:30pm-2:45pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

The title’s a bit misleading, I’d say; this is really 15 Minute Cinema.  It’s series of three acts, each lasting just a quarter of an hour, and each capturing a moment from the early days of film.  Acted out by a cast of four (plus a few props which appear from behind the screen), they highlight the idiosyncrasies of cinema’s golden age – with varying degrees of comedic success.

The evening starts promisingly, with A Silent Movie Of The Archers.  Amusingly marrying the long-running radio show with an even more venerable genre, the classic motifs are all there: there’s a plinkety-plink piano version of the theme tune, dialogue on flash cards, and cape-toting boo-hiss baddies, with names drawn from the parish roll of Ambridge.

To my mind, though, The Archers suffered from having two competing concepts.  The opening scenes cleverly pointed out how preposterous it would be to make a radio series in an age where everything was silent; but the time spent developing that theme was cut from the subsequent melodrama, which felt a little lightweight as a result.  The problem’s partly that the two components are presented one after the other, and weaving them together might create a more satisfying whole.

The second piece, in contrast, has a single idea and executes it well.  The Very Brief Encounter cuts the classic movie down to its essentials, which prove (when all’s said and done) to be extremely brief indeed.  The emphasis is on affectionate parody, highlighting the contrast between stiff-upper-lip repression and implausible passion – embodied by one of several striking visual gags, when Alec, within moments of meeting Laura, sweeps her backwards into a passionate clinch.

The success is largely down to the inspired casting of Anni Tosh, who plays both Alec and Laura’s pipe-puffing husband Fred.  Using a woman to play the two men adds an immediate sense of wackiness to the overblown drama, and the almost Churchillian delivery of her final lines is both very silly and, against the odds, beautifully sincere.

I’d hoped for another change of pace to complete the trilogy, but Casablanca is another intentionally-hammy précis in similar style to Brief Encounter – and sadly, with far more storyline to cram down into the quarter-hour, lacks the strong focus on character which defines the earlier piece.  There are a couple of neat moments at the end, not least Stuart Rooker’s dismissive throw-away of one of the film’s best-known surprises, but I’m afraid by then I found the joke was wearing thin.

So for me, it’s one hit, one miss and one maybe; not a bad result by any standard.  The snappy 15-minute format suits this kind of humour, and – as the publicity points out – it might just be the best way to enjoy the classics, in today’s time-pressured world.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.