The Story Project, a series of 10 15-minute plays with different casts, directors and writers, provides for any number of links and themes, promising “one evening, ten tales, a million possibilities”.
One pattern is the succession of variously pathological female characters, but men come in for it too, with the violent, witch-finding and increasingly loony pastor in Chino Odimba’s The Bird Woman of Lewisham and Miles Mantle’s creation Vincent in the play Control, a Coldplay fan with no trousers on who by his own admission has his “head so far up my own arse that my sphincter’s matted with chest hair”.
Like these two plays, David Lane’s Will and Sharon Clark’s Pig are single dramatic one-on-one encounters between a man and a woman in a confined space, ideal for the closely hemmed-in stage at the Arcola and hinting at a wider story beyond the action.
Others deal with the time limit in different ways: The Circle – Shelley Davenport’s group of pathologically boastful new mothers – and Emily Juniper’s Clause IV which takes New Labour to a children’s birthday party – are more self-contained, almost like comedy sketches.
Meanwhile, Gareth Jandrell’s That Dead Girl and David Byrne’s Sad Play recount a whole narrative within the time-limit. That Dead Girl creates a terrifying mimesis of cyber-bullying (featuring Anyebe Godwin as a topless selfie, one of only three black actors in the evening’s large cast), and Sad Play turns out to be ironically entitled as Byrne successfully tries to write about his depression in as hilarious a way possible, proving along the way that it’s possible to have people rolling in the aisles in 2015 with a parody of Rumpole of the Bailey.
Monologues are another option, with alcoholic to-be-wed Kat in Hannah Rodger’s Bricks and Bones having only a rapidly-emptying champagne bottle for company onstage and the titular Jimbob in Christopher York’s play being only an imaginary friend, leaving Jake (Jonathan Milshaw) to carry the play all by himself in impressive style.
If you can cope with the chopping and changing, The Story Project is a great night for seeing what dramatic form can achieve.
The Story Project is at the Arcola, 24 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL until 10 January.