The first ever Black Box Festival organised by the N.U.I.M. drama society was perhaps the highlights of 2007 for the society. The event ran over four days with three seperate shows going to stage. The three shows were Closer written by Patrick Marber, The Exonerated by Eric Jensen and Jessica Blank and I Do Not Like Thee Doctor Fell by Bernard Farrell. All three productions had first-time directors with Denis Ryan (Closer), Oneka Munyikwa (The Exonerated), and Mary McDonnell (I Do Not Like Thee Doctor Fell) all stepping into the roles well and adapting to the challanging space of The Venue theatre. There were two performances of each play one morning show and one evening and the novelty of day-time shows worked very well with all shows getting a very solid audience, most notable was the large crowd from the day-time performance of The Exonerated.
Closer is a seedy and unsettling examination of sexual a-morality and promiscuity in affairs of the heart. It asks the question of how relationships effect us when the chaos of lust is more powerful than the order of reason and propriety. The acting performances were of a standard not often seen on a student-theatre stage. Both Conor Riordan and Peter Kavanagh gave powerful exhibitions in acting, Riordan's all-consuming lust poured off the stage in an uncomfortable torrent and Kavanagh's delusions and frustrations were both hilarious and poignant. Denis Ryan's direction was purposeful and coherent and the staging managed to over-come the claustophobia of the Venue stage despite the frequent scene-changes.
The Exonerated is a troubling political polemic that launches a determined, unfliching assault of the American justice system and specifically capital punishment. Unearthing the rascism and contradiction of the implementation of the death penalty, the play is shocking in its vision of institutional violence. The production over-came all the difficulties of the challanging piece by keeping the movement and effects minimal and allowing the message take centre-stage. When decisions were made to introduce special sound and lighting effects for particular moments the affect was devastating. One particular moment worth mentioning was during a monologue, given by Patrick McGlynn in a husky southern voice, when he demanded that the rain stopped three times and each time his demand was met, the subtle change in lighting and the gradual rumbling rise of the rain and its sudden stop was truely powerful. All characters were on stage for the entire performance and the blocking was fantastic. Munyikwa managed to create a terrific stage space with space materials, allowing the testomies of MyGlynn, Miriam Needham, Will Woods and others shine through.
I Do Not Like Thee Doctor Fell was a lighter piece than the other two, comical and at times frace-like it gave a balance to the festival and a relief from the other two very demanding productions. Set during an eventfull over-night therapy group retreat, a silent Joe character manages to unearth everybodies greatest fears, tearing apart the deciet of the gathering. Strong performances from Paul Donnelly and Maria Hallinan drove the play forward towards it exciting conclusion.
Special mention must be given to the two stars of the festival Jason Joyce and Sophie Cambell. Both actors played two different roles during the festival Joyce (The Exonerated and Dr Fell), Cambell (Dr Fell and Closer). The schedule meant that they also had to perform the different roles one the same day. Not only did they succeed, they excelled with the best performances of the week coming from both actors. Joyce as the unsettling stuttering Joe in Dr Fell and Cambell as the enchanting, intellegent London photographer Anna.