Usually, if a company’s artistic director stepped on to the stage to confess to only two days’ rehearsal, it would send a ripple of dismay around the auditorium. For Theatre Uncut, however, it is part of its “right here, right now” ethos.
Theatre Uncut was launched two years ago as a rapid response to the cuts in public spending in the UK. This year they have cast their net more widely, pulling in writers from hotspots around the world. Everyone offers their services for free (hence the brief rehearsal period); anyone can download the plays from the website and perform them, free of cost, until midnight on 18 November, and they are currently being performed all over the world.
This year there are 16 plays. I saw the second group: six mini-dramas at the Young Vic laced with haunting songs from Sam Lee, Kesty Morrison and Jack Salt. As you might expect from the shoestring nature of the operation, there is the odd hiccup and the plays of mixed quality. But taken together, they examine the consequences of ordinary people speaking out or taking action, and they offer a stimulating invitation to argue and engage.
First up, a peppy little satire from Scottish writer Kieran Hurley about the strains on Olympic togetherness when somebody screws up. Here, Phill Jupitus appears in barnstorming form as a communications bigwig, driven into mouth-frothing, expletive-riddled rage when all his efforts at promoting a harmonious image are scuppered by a mix-up with the Korean flags.
Some offer more abstract pieces. Anders Lustgarten explores apathy and fear of change in The Breakout, a metaphorical drama in which two prison inmates (Gemma Johnson and Nadia Clifford) find a hole in the wall. One is for breaking free; the other is more wary of risking the loss of the home comforts and familiarity. The Birth of My Violence by Marco Canale from Spain comes at the economic crisis with a challenging and rather dense monologue (well handled by John McKeever) about the role of the playwright in rebellion.
The best, though, keep their focus tight. American playwright Neil LaBute offers a sharp father-son row about protest and progress, in which a teenage campaigner begs a loan from his disapproving father (crisp performances from Gary Beadle and Tobi Bakare). A Chance Encounter by Mohammad Al Attar, from Syria, shows an exiled, tortured Syrian activist challenging the conscience of a government supporter on a beach in Beirut (Philip Arditti and Raad Rawi).
And perhaps the best of the evening comes from Clara Brennan: Spine, a funny, touching monologue (delivered by Holli Dempsey) by a young, mouthy student whose unexpected friendship with an old lady prompts her to realise the cost of the loss of the local library. A sharp, witty, angry piece about the galvanising power of knowledge – surely the essence of Theatre Uncut.