WoLab - a working laboratory for artists to create - concludes its 12-week inaugural actor-writer course with a showcase of monologues and duologues by the ten participants. Daniel Perks comments:

A couple make a fuss out of killing a bee. A waitress reveals what she really thinks about her customers. Two surgeons eat crisps. Just a few scenarios from the class of the inaugural WoLab course as part of their performance showcase.

Revealing. Challenging. Eye-opening. Nervous but fun. Some of the words the actor-writers use to describe their 12-week experience. Four hours a week with workshops, mentoring sessions and visits from industry professionals. Four hours a week to bond as a group and craft both a monologue and, more interestingly, a duologue piece. All for free, all courtesy of WoLab – a working laboratory for artists to create. All co-run by Artistic Director Alistair Wilkinson and dramaturg Rachel Moore.

Chloe Wade (image courtesy of Alessa Davison Photography)

Fringe theatre is an incredibly generous place – producers, directors and photographers donated their time; Theatre N16, the Actors Centre and The Bunker Theatre provided rehearsal and performance space, all to help foster creativity for the next generation of theatre makers.

No, not next generation.

Not the future. But the present.

As Wilkinson so aptly points out in his opening address, these ten individuals are making work right now, performing and innovating and pushing the boundaries of the field. They have performed at the Young Vic, the National Theatre, the Royal Exchange; they are currently in King Lear at the Duke of York’s Theatre with Sir Ian McKellen; they have commissions at Nottingham Playhouse and the Curve Theatre, Leicester. They have been members of Soho Writers Lab, Royal Court Writers Group and Barbara Houseman’s all-female theatre company Dangerous Space.

WoLab Actor-Writer Showcase

Olu Adaeze (image courtesy of Alessa Davison Photography)

Not the future. But the present.

So, to the ten themselves. Speaking with them before their final showcase at The Bunker Theatre (after a difficult weekend relocating from Theatre N16 – just another example of the theatre community rallying magnificently to support those in need), there is a sense of nervous energy among the group. The time gone in a flash, but similarly a whole summer spent collaborating and making diverse work, with unique perspectives taking their place at the table.

The overriding message is one of fun, gratitude and unexpected experiences. The inaugural WoLab course was less about instructing how to write and more about encouraging that innate ability out of each of its members. Less time spent sat working on scripts, more time spent actively devising through ensemble, physical movement and improvisation. This was not an introverted course about words on a page but a safe space to experiment and risk.

Charles Entsie (image courtesy of Alessa Davison Photography)

Many of the risks pay off in the showcase. Each writer-actor has discovered a voice, an identity. Each piece is varied, diverse and a thoughtful consideration of the subject material. Of course, common themes emerge – broken relationships, acerbic comedy and harrowing twists or reveals. And, as expected, the monologues are more grounded, more assured in their intention. Charles Entsie’s piece is the perfect example – Bossman works as a short in its own right, an on-point observational comedy about realising that the older generation may actually want to date or find romance. Likewise, Holly Rose Hawgood’s H(ead), H(eart), V(agina) has its own sense of purpose, an internal dilemma experienced when deciding whether to embark on a new relationship rather than stick with the one-night stand, singleton lifestyle. She presents three conflicting opinions – rational, emotional and sexual – all at odds in a cleverly crafted piece of honest comedy.

WoLab Actor-Writer Showcase

Holly Rose Hawgood & Sonny Poon Tip (image courtesy of Alessa Davison Photography)

Hawgood is the overall standout of the showcase, with her duologue piece Out On A School Night equally well constructed. A convincing pre-bed dissection of the night out with partner Sonny Poon Tip is unafraid of physicality, movement and the comic pause. The same can be said of Thanh Le Dang’s monologue Rita Waits – Dang’s use of the stage adds depth to her character’s impatience, as she waits for the man who can help her finally start her life.

Overall, comedy is the more impactful method of expression in this particular showcase, with one notable exception. Tom Powell’s Nero immediately conjures up a tension that has his audience squirming uncomfortably. It’s obvious that something isn’t quite right about Powell’s complex characterisation, without fully realising what until the end. Nero is a cleverly crafted, intriguing piece of writing, a series of breadcrumbs that hints at a destination without lessening the inevitable surprise.

Tom Powell & Thanh Le Dang (image courtesy of Alessa Davison Photography)

Not the future. But the present.

WoLab’s inaugural course sets out to “promote the proactivity that is self-created work”.

Mission accomplished. In spades.

But Wilkinson and Moore have done more than present a catalogue of work by these theatre makers. They have instilled self-confidence in each of them, the reassurance that you can follow both career paths and make your own work, your own mark on the scene.

Because the industry is multidisciplinary now. It’s not slowly moving towards an intersectional model – it’s well on that journey already. But there is a long way to go and to get there requires initiatives like WoLab, safe spaces for creative risk and collaboration, multi-dimensional practice and experimentation. Programmes that don’t just require their participants to put pen to paper, but put action to thought.

WoLab ‘s actor-writer showcase ran in partnership with Theatre N16. For information, please visit the company website here.