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How to Solve with revolvers

Review: UMDS Autumn Showcase- Solve

By

Four stars out of five

I have always been a little sceptical of student theatre fearing amateur performances and cheap costumes. However, after seeing Solve these misconceptions have been dispelled. This piece of new writing left me feeling shocked, upset, and even at times full of laughter. The play centres upon the idea of a world, not unlike our own, which is heavily overpopulated.  In order to solve this problem a brutal regime has been put in place: a regime in which strangers are called up to effectively, kill one another. Most of the play takes place in the waiting room, as characters wait their turn to enter the room in which they must kill, or be killed. The fact that the plot is so relevant to our own time makes this play that much more poignant, causing the audience to dwell on possible solutions for our own overpopulation problem.

The relevance of Solve to our own worries and apprehensions is perhaps due to its position as a piece of new writing, written by a second year drama student at the University of Manchester. Ali Michael who plays the leading role, Edward, in this harrowing tale states that ‘Piers has been writing this play for nearly 8 months now. It has been a massive project for him especially considering that it is such a complex and dark concept for a play. But after months of toil the finished product is truly remarkable for a 20 year old. Having watched it from its infancy I am hugely proud and quite awe-struck by the finished article.’ The play is indeed, well written and complex – as a second year student myself, it is inspiring to see what students can and do achieve. The themes of this play were so resonant with the audience that long after the play had ended, these topics continued to be discussed, most prominently where the well being of the greater good overtakes our own personal morality.

Most of the action in the first half of the play is off stage, as the audience is left to watch the tensions that play out in the waiting room. The tension on stage mirrors the tension that pervaded in the audience when characters left to enter the solving room, leaving the audience to wonder what will happen to these characters, who will survive. This tension led to some incredibly poignant moments, for example when Jasmine and Robert, a couple, were requested to enter the solving room together a few members of the audience were left in tears. Alongside the use of off stage action, the play employs the use of bright lighting. A blinding white light was used to signify the fact that a gun has been shot, this left the audience startled and confused, just like the deeply immoral system that this play conveys.  Alex Simmons portrayal of the sinister, deeply disturbing Gregory was fantastic, terrifically highlighting the aggression of this society.

For me sadly, the second half of the play failed to convey the tension and excitement of the first half, focusing instead on the interrogation of Edward by the police, and yet, it was effective in conveying the deep rooted corruption of the system. The dialogue between Edward and the two policemen was uncomfortable, sometimes steering towards a somewhat fantastical critique of the police force. However, the main themes continued to keep the audience gripped.

After watching Solve I am a convert to student theatre and undoubtedly will be going to watch more of it, and would compel others to do the same.