Four of the nine Festival Highlights shows I worked on in August were solo pieces. And over the years of visiting the Edinburgh Fringe, I estimate that at least 60% of all those shows I’ve seen there have been solos – and that’s not including any stand-up.
Personally, I love a good solo piece. If it’s well written and well performed, I feel like I’m opening up the brain of the character and rummaging around, as I do with a really gripping first-hand narrative novel.
In the past, after returning elated from Edinburgh, I’ve suggested to a producer friend that we mount a season of solo plays. Particularly with those that have festival friendly running times of 60 to 90 minutes, I reckoned you could do all manner of double and triple bills to maximise your theatre rent and attract a broad spectrum of audiences.
Imagine my delight when I discovered this week that there already is just such a thing in London. The “Face to Face Festival of Solo Theatre” is now in its third year – I’m embarrassed that I didn’t already know about it. The 2014 festival, under the banner “Voices from the Edge”, runs 6 to 11 October at the Lost Theatre in Wandsworth, with a sneak peek preview tonight (4 September).
Face to Face is the brainchild of Colin Watkeys, who founded the festival “in order to encourage audiences and nurture performers and demonstrate just how good solo theatre can be”.
It all started with Nica Burns
The first solo theatre piece Colin created, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1982, was Dulcima, which starred none other than Nica Burns. [Nica is now famous as a West End theatre producer and owner of Nimax Theatres – and still proudly displays a photo of herself in Dulcima in her office off the Strand.]
In the 32 years since, Colin has specialised in producing and directing solo theatre, with more than 100 credits, performed around the world, to his name. His CV includes work with young writers at the Royal Court and solo performers at the Finborough Cabaret from 1982-1988, and he has directed all of the solo theatre created by award-winning performers Claire Dowie and the late, legendary Ken Campbell, as well as work by Stephen Oxley, Guy Dartnell, Jeremy Stockwell, Peta Lily and Jack Klaff (the award-winning Jack the Knife).
Total immersion and intimacy
Echoing my own sentiments, Colin tells me: “In the best solos, audiences don’t even think about there being only one person onstage or notice the absence of other performers or sets. They become totally immersed in the character’s world and story.”
Colin is now part of a world movement that recognises that solo performance possesses a unique quality of vision in theatre, and he founded the Face to Face Festival to celebrate it. In the festival, new emerging artists perform alongside experienced professionals, new work is programmed opposite classic pieces. There are also training opportunities for new performers to take part in workshops and to create and present their first solos.
The 2014 Face to Face programme includes: Claire Dowie’s Adult Child/Dead Child (seven solo performers, including a special guest “star”); Peter Hammill’s The Fall of the House of Usher, an opera by Van Der Graaf Generator’s front man performed by 2009 Busker of the Year Jamie West; Deirdre Strath’s Betty, inspired by American home making legend Betty Crocker; Martin Stewart’s Dr Who obsessed Pyramids of Margate; and “gemskii”, from Ken Campbell’s Impro company, in Meal Ticket.
Incidentally, a vocabulary lesson for those who think the terms monologue, one-man/woman show or solo piece are interchangeable with “solo theatre”? Colin informs me: “I use the expression solo theatre because that is what it is – a play for one character, not those other things. Monologue suggests a literary extract and solo piece could be anything – I have never heard a Samuel Beckett play described as a one-person show!”
For the full 2014 Face to Face Festival programme, visit www.solotheatrefestival.co.uk.
Tonight’s launch features 5- to 10-minute tasters from the festival. If you can get yourself to Wandsworth’s Lost Theatre for 7.30pm, you can attend for free, but tickets must be reserved in advance by email via the website.