OffBeat Festival at The Playhouse and The Old Fire Station, Oxford

All reviews by @BookingAround

Miserably Happy  1st July

Tiernan Douieb is warming up for his Edinburgh show in a few weeks, Miserably Happy, and this short comedy set was perfect for a Saturday night – an hour of political humour delivered with a good amount of self-deprecation. Douieb is fiercely political, but in a warm-hearted way – I happened to agree with much of his rhetoric, but I got the sense that even if you disagreed, you’d be more likely to leave feeling challenged and thoughtful, than riled up. If this show lives up to the promise of the warm-up, you’d be safe to pick up tickets for this at Edinburgh, particularly if you’re in the market for something that’ll make you laugh and think.   ★★★★☆


Massive Sense of Urgency  30th June

Massive Sense of Urgency is a short, comedic, one-woman play by Madi Maxwell-Libby. It’s surprisingly light-hearted for a show that primarily deals with the subjects of neo-liberalism and free-market capitalism. Maxwell-Libby manages to convey her subject interestingly and creatively using a series of props and madcap costume changes. However, it had a slightly frenetic quality, which sometimes means that some of the jokes miss their mark and fall a little flat. Perhaps a few more performances and a deep breath or two could make this into a more polished production.  ★★★☆☆


Ballistic  29th June

After seeing a number of reasonably light-hearted shows at Offbeat, I always knew that a show about a mass shooter was going to be a bit of a gear change. Ballistic is a one-man production about a lonely, unhappy, and mentally-unstable person who makes a plan to turn his life around. Mark Conway is perfect as the protagonist – he draws the audience towards him as an awkward and highly credible teenager, obsessed with girls and gaming. We’re still willing to take his side, even as a few of his comments about women jar, even as he maintains ‘I’m a gentleman. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do’. We don’t feel our sympathies slip until it’s too late.

This is a masterful piece of theatre – the writing is clean and clever, the staging is resourcefully sparse and aesthetically beautiful, and even when you anticipate the ending, the impact is still like a punch to the stomach. I’m not going to forget this play for a long time.  ★★★★★


Signs    28th June

This year’s Offbeat festival is incorporating more British Sign Language-interpreted material into their shows this year, and Signs is a particularly original example, as it doesn’t simply have a BSL-interpreter, instead it is a dance piece which incorporates sign language directly into the performance. From Monix Arts, and performed by dancers Erena Bordon Sanchez and Laura Heywood, this physical piece conveys the frustrations of trying to communicate as a deaf person in a hearing world.

Visibility is obviously vital in this type of show, and it could be a little hard to see everything happening on stage – this might work well as a filmed piece so none of the nuance is lost.  ★★★☆☆


The Class Project  26th June

Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s solo show is a warm and thoughtful love letter to the Black Country. It takes a reflective and often difficult look at how class and language shape our lives and our sense of belonging. Tracing a line from Margaret Thatcher, via Tony Blair and David Cameron, to Theresa May, Atkinson-Lord shows how her identity has been shaped by political posturing and the innate British obsession with class. Her honesty and willingness to direct a spotlight on her own weaknesses and insecurities left me asking myself some similar questions long after the show ended.    ★★★★☆


Dis-Covery  26th June

I couldn’t have loved this event more. René Sharanya Verma is in the process of crafting her first solo spoken-word show, but she performs like a pro, playing with language, music, and rap. Her performance is delivered with great flair and humour. Her creative wordplay has the audience enthralled from the moment she begins to speak, and I could listen to her for another hour easily! Dealing with questions as diverse as feminism, asexuality, race, and ‘naan bread’, René Sharanya Verma is the voice we all need – she isn’t afraid to speak out and share her experiences, and I’ll be watching her closely to see what she does next on the performance poetry scene.  ★★★★★   26th June 2017