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Hers, A Short Film by Alexa Morden (with Katie Elin-Salt), Reviewed by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In Alexa Morden and Katie Elin-Salt are two actors determined to change the industry. Through their excellent podcast ‘The 98%’, they give a warts-and-all account of what the #actorslife is truly like. It is an insight that will prove particularly valuable to recent graduates; and for other creative types like me there is plenty to learn from and to relate to. More than anything, it brings a new-found respect for those pursuing this most fraught and fragile of “career” paths.

The creation of Hers by Alexa Morden springs in part from the difficulties of the jobbing actor. For anyone already familiar with their podcast, the idea of acting as a full-time profession is a distant dream for most. Thus, in response (and to quote Morden), ‘When the industry isn’t giving you lemons… grow your own oranges’. The result is this short film that is fresh, fragrant and ripe for watching.

Morden stars as Beth, a young woman who happens upon kindred spirit Laura (played by Elin-Salt) in the bathroom of a house party. They hit it off immediately through a conversation about online dating apps, soon finding themselves acquainted with one another on the tiled floor. What follows is a wonderfully frank scene, featuring full frontal dialogue that is smart, witty and well-polished. Some may consider the so-called ‘X-rated’ content here as being too much. Some would argue that it has been pulled straight from the Fleabag Scriptures. In either case, Hers feels fresh and raw (in spite of the ordinariness of its characters and its mundane setting) suggesting that such explicit conversation around women’s sexual experiences remains rare onscreen.

I would expect nothing less from its two stars however, who to some extent play versions of themselves here. Their no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is approach to their podcast is reflected here in the casual flow with which this duologue is delivered. The film benefits greatly from their off-screen chemistry, which makes the friendship that blossoms between their characters onscreen all the more believable. They are well-suited, with Elin-Salt’s strong South Walian phrasing and expressive movement providing a nicely-balanced contrast to Morden’s softer tone and sharply defined actions. They have the makings of a very entertaining partnership. In the real world, of course, this is already a reality. But there is also something about these two characters that, at the end of the film, makes you want more of their company.

This may be a one-off piece. But Hers has the potential to be something much bigger.

Click here to watch the film*.

To find out more about The 98% podcast, click here.

Reviewed by Gareth Williams

*contains strong language and adult themes

Review, Out of Love, The Roundabout Theatre at Theatr Clwyd by Gareth Williams

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

 

Jodie Whitaker may be everyone’s new favourite female of the moment but my eye has been drawn to someone less well-known. In my second trip to the Roundabout Theatre in a week, a process of regeneration had seemingly taken place. Having taken my first steps into the pop-up theatre last week for the world premiere of Black Mountain, I had returned seven days later for another debut show. To my surprise (and delight), I found the same three actors from Brad Birch’s play starring again, this time in Out of Love by Elinor Cook. They had undergone a transformation which now saw Sally Messham and Katie Elin-Salt playing best friends Lorna and Grace. Hasan Dixon was now playing a host of male characters, showcasing his talent for versatility. However, it is Elin-Salt who has caught my undivided attention.

In Out of Love, Elin-Salt plays the lovably naïve Grace. Wearing a dungaree dress and plimsoll shoes, there is something eternally childlike about her character. Above all else, I think it is the expressive acting of Elin-Salt that conveys this with such success. She flails about on the floor, swings her legs up and down; her arms are constantly in motion, her shoulders slightly elevated; and her mouth seems to return to the default position of “slight frown” after every piece of dialogue. It is the intimate nature of this round theatre that allows the audience to pick up on such small details. This adds to the quality of the characterisation which, in Elin-Salt’s case, is near perfection.

The retention of her South Walian accent is a stroke of genius. Elin-Salt’s ability to utilise the musicality of her accent in order to convey such contrasting emotions is pure joy to the listening ear. In Black Mountain, she flattens its naturally-high pitch to express a degree of seriousness. In Out of Love, she emphasises it. This gives a comical edge to Grace that increases her likability. It also enables for the exploration of sex and sexuality. Not that this cannot be talked about in a serious way. However, Cook’s decision to examine it from the perspective of two female adolescents makes for a more naturalistic, animated and frank discussion.

There is also a vulnerability to Grace which Elin-Salt beautifully conveys – a deep desire for intimacy that hints at jealousy towards Lorna’s ability to pull men. For the supreme closeness of these two best friends, there is also a hidden tension. It is testament to the quality of Cook’s writing that this unspoken emotion never bursts onto the stage. Instead, it is veiled beneath some rather ambiguous words and actions. Through her performance, Elin-Salt manages to capture this ambiguity perfectly. She peels back the depths of Grace’s heart, ever so slightly, to subtly reveal her concealed motives. She manages to do this so imperceptibly that I could not help but burst with admiration towards the depth of her acting skills.

Out of Love is a suitably complex portrayal of female friendship. Elinor Cook presents an entertaining and engaging narrative featuring two female protagonists over some 20-30 years of their lives. Sally Messham gives an accomplished and controlled performance as Lorna. She does not put a foot wrong and perfectly complements her fellow lead. It is Katie Elin-Salt who wins much of the applause from myself however. Not excluding the above, her natural enthusiasm and depth of imagination make her an infectious talent. She weaves such fine complexity and depth of character into her performance. She is a delight to watch. She also makes a strong case for championing a great deal more female-led narratives. This is one reason to be excited at Whitaker’s casting. But whilst I await her arrival as the 13th Doctor, I shall revel in the discovery of another talented actress. Katie Elin-Salt is, surely, a major talent in waiting.

A Theatr Clwyd, Paines Plough & Orange Tree Theatre co-production | Directed by James Grieve

OUT OF LOVE