Review: Ice Tea

I always find it exciting when people I know take on big projects, and make steps towards achieving goals that I would probably never set for myself. Therefore when four of my course mates (Aaron Douglas, Luke Pierre, Henry Jones, and Tom Thirkell) set up the Inventive Sabotage Theatre (IST) Company last year, at the start of our final year at university, I was intrigued to see how they’d go forward. I’ve worked with them all before in various forms – and have directed Douglas and Pierre in my own production of Look Back in Anger – but I know them all to be passionate, and determined people when they set their sights on something.

I was sad to miss their first production, Waiting for Godot, which I heard endless praise for. However, I got in quick for tickets to their first original piece – Ice Tea – which promised to be bold and exciting. With five more course mates performing, I couldn’t miss another chance to support them in their new journey, and I am very glad I went along.

Ice Tea is set around an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting – we arrive and are given name badges, people come up and chat, asking if we’re nervous on our first day, and quickly as audience members we realise that actually, we are sitting in on a meeting and are bound to hear some interesting stories. And I must admit, the lure of free ice tea (in peach or lemon of course), is always a good thing!

The concept is relatively simple – engage with the audience by introducing characters at intervals, with confrontations, arguments, emotional monologues, and the odd well-developed flashbacks. But it is in its simplicity that Ice Tea has its genius as the characters are remarkably complex; from Elle (Abigail Oscroft) the abused girlfriend, to Jerry (Josh Howell) the hysterically funny ‘businessman’ who has a secret, or Neil (Michael Tumbiolo) the angry young man in devastating turmoil from his past. It was Tumbiolo who stole the show for me, and all in the last twenty minutes. Remaining relatively silent throughout the majority of the production, the character of Neil appeared brooding, discontent, and frustrated – one could easily assume this is due to him being forced to an AA meeting. But it is in the final few scenes that his story comes out, and it is one that had me holding back tears. The amount of emotion and expression that Tumbiolo had held throughout the previous hour and a half exploded in a raw, human, visceral way which left me chilled and breathless.

However this production is pretty non-stop – ranging from the depths of despair to the heights of comedy, the cast had their work cut out for them with minimal off-stage time, and a need to remain in character throughout, even in the ‘ice tea’ breaks. The skills and concentration required for this are not to be sniffed at.

The four founders of IST all took a collaborative part in directing the show, and achieved a cohesiveness that can be tricky when working with so many people. This is testament to their cooperation and the way in which each director compliments the other – there were no odd scenes that didn’t fit, or styles that pointed towards inharmonious collaboration. Instead, what Ice Tea proved was these are guys to look out for, and they have most definitely hit the ground running. Even with just a few months left at university with them, I know I’ll be following their every step closely from now on.

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