The Drama Society’s 2015 Autumn Showcase has brought forward a new body of student-written work, reminding Manchester theatre-goers the importance of paying attention to the work of young, emerging playwrights.
As the successful careers of a number of University of Manchester alumni serve to prove, it would be a great crime to underestimate the potential talent of current student artists. Particularly relevant evidence of the success of alumni is the recent run of Alistair McDowell’s play Pomona at the Royal Exchange Theatre, having previously been performed at the National Theatre and the Orange Tree Theatre.
Perhaps following in McDowell’s footsteps might be playwright Tom Mackintosh and the cohort of theatre-makers who worked alongside him in producing the play The Pit, recently performed in the Council Chambers of the Students’ Union. Surprisingly, one of the great triumphs of this play is in its illogical plot and nonsensical style. Boasting clear resonances of Beckett’s Endgame and Waiting for Godot, The Pit delightfully and accurately reinvigorates absurdism. In a sudden injection of normality amidst confusion, Mackintosh reinforces the messages that Beckett and his contemporaries endeavoured to project to their own audiences in an inventive and thought-provoking way.
The Pit opens, develops and closes in a pit. Diggers work all day under a disconcertingly anonymous regime, unaware of why they must dig, when they began digging, or when they might be allowed to stop digging. In a repetitive, meaningless universe that is neither up nor down, there is no knowledge of anything ‘else’. When a woman from ‘our’ world gets dropped into the mix, the diggers are jolted from their daily routine, and begin asking questions that no digger has thought to ask before.
Bringing the principle duo of diggers, Garf and Crid, to life, were the charismatic and wonderfully comedic Sam Ebner-Landy and Oliver Robert-Vale. Perfectly cast, these two actors set themselves apart from the rest, giving tender and complex representations of two exceedingly disturbed characters. The entire cast of The Pit must also be commended for their emotional and physical commitment to the production. The sheer energy and power with which the actors approached their roles was remarkable to behold.
Much like reading an epic poem, The Pit was exhausting yet entirely absorbing to experience. Whilst perhaps excessively drawn out during the first half of the play, the plot remained interesting and intriguing. Undeniably, the various designers had much to do with the overall success of the play. The effective deployment of extensive audio-visual effects was impressive, and the artistic direction by Cecilia Wray was thoughtful and detailed, and rounded off the microcosmic world of the play perfectly. The use of timeworn papers and magazines among the mud and filth of the pit bolstered the sense of timelessness that is so key to the text.
With the Drama Society’s showcase drawing to an end, anticipation begins to build for its next series of plays to be performed during the Manchester In-Fringe Theatre Awards season in the new year. Manchester theatre-goers can only hope that the Drama Society’s productions continue to simultaneously challenge audience expectations whilst inspiring potential McDowells to bring their work to life.