Electrolyte

This show did not have an auspicious start – six performers milling around the stage, sharing in-jokes and nattering away – but appearances can be deceptive.

Led by Olivia Sweeney as narrator Jessie, this mixed troupe of musicians and actors combine fluidly to tell a rambunctious story of love, life, and loss, at blistering pace and with fierce emotion.

Sweeney dominates, striding lankily around the stage all mouthy and boisterous – at least on the surface. Her aggressive Leeds tones are met by the sublime voice of Robyn Sinclair as rising artist Allie; given her exceptional vocals, it’s a role that doesn’t need much acting.

Writer James Meteyard plays a vital and redemptive bit part, alongside Megan Ashley, Ben Simon, and Chris Georgiou, who predominantly work the audio side of the piece with occasional small speaking parts.

It’s a style that has been termed gig theatre, but to label it is to cheapen it: what Electrolyte is, is exceptional storytelling. While sharper audience members may guess the key twists ahead of time, the delight is in Meteyard’s script: an extended poem that despite its dominant rhymes feels entirely unforced in its delivery.

This isn’t tricksy, affected performance poetry, it is skilled and pleasurable writing in a theatrical tradition that goes back to the iambic pentameter and the rhyming couplet. This is a story of youth, pharmaceutical excess, a search for family, and switched perceptions: hardly alien concepts to Shakespeare, who also threw in the odd song – and no one calls him gig theatre.

Donnacadh O’Briain’s direction is disarmingly smart. While there is undoubted tension and drama, in between scenes and at the edges of the action the cast remain extraordinarily warm and informal, playful as genuine friends. We are lulled into the theatrical deceit, making the emotionally wrenching events played out all the more impactful.

This isn’t a show to see for its format or construction though. It’s a show to see because it is exceptionally well written and performed and because like the best theatre, it takes you places you didn’t expect to go.

Rear View

This IOU Theatre piece definitively gives a new perspective on life: for most of the show the audience are watching from the back of an open-top bus.

Specially converted for this very unusual type of street theatre, the raked seating makes the city a stage as the vehicle circuits around Bishopgate and Magdalen Street, stopping in a few hidden spaces on the way.

Throughout the journey poet performer Cecilia Knapp narrates the story of a 65-year-old woman, reflecting back on her life, her mistakes, her heartaches, and her moments of joy.

Her voice comes through headphones, her presence is fleeting: sometimes we see her on an improvised stage, sometimes a car following the bus. More often she is just an ethereal, disembodied voice: a memory of a memory.

The poetics are startling and the approach novel, though the connection between the two – and the host city – could be deeper.

Stand-Buy For Tape Back-Up

It’s strange the things we can get nostalgic about: for Ross Sutherland, it’s the humble videotape.

The central – slightly stretching – conceit of his latest show, Stand-Buy For Tape Back-Up is a tape containing clips recorded by him and his grandad, clips that played backwards, in slow motion, and on repeat form a synchronised visual background to spoken poetry.

This paen to the VCR is beautifully produced, with the hiss and pops of the worn-out tape punctuating Sutherland’s words and some delicious moments of synchronicity as clips from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the Crystal Maze, Ghostbusters and even banking adverts blend in unlikely harmony with his meditations on his childhood, his grandfather’s death and his own struggles with asthma and depression.

Always one of the strongest lyrically of the Aisle 16 poets, Sutherland’s wordplay is extended on to the screen with the antics of Will Smith and hapless gameshow contestants being twisted in to metaphors of his own creation, and the pace of the video matched to the changing metre of his own delivery.

The closing coda around the film Jaws feels a little at odds with the rest of the show, but this is still a work in progress and no doubt that will be fixed as the piece heads to the Edinburgh Fringe. Sutherland is not about to fade away.