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29th February 2016

Review: Novel Experiments in Living

A writer and his writer’s block form the basis a witty and ambitious play written and directed by Rob Paterson

Rob Paterson’s second foray into writing and direction is a witty, fast-paced, meta-comedy that looks to sidestep all potential criticism by, well, critiquing itself.

It is a ploy that is very nearly pulled off without exception, the writing and performances being strong enough to carry off such pretension without the audience really minding but certainly not without them noticing.

Aatma is a fitting setting for the production. Claustrophobic to the extent that the first row becomes part of the scenery—and allowing for cast members to be easily placed amongst the audience—the space was utilized excellently.

Specifically, the alluded-to placement of The Critic within the audience took the audience by surprise and only served to draw the play off the stage and into the stalls. Tilly Woodhouse, as The Critic, was the standout performer, handling her role with consummate comedic ability and engaging with the audience leading some left feeling she truly had critiqued them.

In truth it is a play that it would be difficult to leave without feeling violated. The play’s themes smartly manoeuvre through what makes us us, and stresses more than once that we are, every day, playing a character.

More than once I found my mind pondering over the notion that I am in fact nothing more than a cliché of myself. It is a sentiment that was mirrored onstage by the character’s struggle to carve out anything resembling individuality, whilst questioning the notion of who was writing their story.

Calum Pearce, in the role of The Writer, delivered a strong performance as the character that had supposedly authored the events on stage. Opposite him Holly Willmott gave an enduring depiction of The Love Interest; a character heavy handedly, albeit deliberately, evoking Rabin’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Herein lies the only critique that can be made of the play. By deliberately making blatant its shortcomings, it pre-empts but does not wholly negate its weaknesses.

While parts of the script were incredibly strong, there were passages that dragged, making pacing an issue. The characters declaring their horror at being found in a ‘student play’ does take the sting out of this complaint; drawing a laugh out of being self-aware about the rough theatrical aesthetic we have come to expect from abstract student productions. What this doesn’t however change is the fact that the largely intelligent script did have sections that felt less astute.

This is a small issue though, in what is predominantly a well-written piece of theatre honed to its venue with precision. Full of pop-culture references, and scattered with four-letter words, it is unlikely to be a hit with older audiences. For a generation who feel defined by the culture they consume though, this is a resonant, and aptly self-deprecating, piece of theatre.

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