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28th February 2020

Review: An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (MIFTA)

Alexia Pieretti reviews An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty at the King’s Arms as part of MIFTA
Review: An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (MIFTA)
Photo: Hannah McEwen.

Elliot Scott’s new play, An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, was performed at the King’s Arms as part of the Drama Society’s MIFTA season. The play was directed by Jacob McGoldrick, assistant directed by writer Elliot Scott, and produced by Hannah McEwen.

I was admittedly excited to see this play because I was on the playmaking module with Scott when he wrote it. I read some extracts in class and, thus, was curious to see it brought to life.

Set in North Somerset, An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty centred on a friendship group of four boys: naïve and impressionable James (Joe Llewelyn), sensible and mature Joe (Adam Tutt), wannabe YouTube gamer Pete (Oli King), and rebel Josh (Henry Bolden). Josh was a few years older than the others since all those his own age had left for university.

In their village, nature was being destroyed; a wall was slowly being built in the field where they once played. Now, the four boys sat in front of the wall, discussing video games and eating biscuits.

The narrative was divided into four short acts; each for a different season of the year. As the seasons progressed, the wall got higher, obscuring the beautiful rich green tapestry painted by designer Ellie Johnston.

In the first act, Pete painted ‘Jammo is a gaylord’ on the wall, intensifying James’s insecurity. Recognizable as typical behaviour of teenage boys by the audience, this caused a prolonged round of laughter. However, this ridiculous piece of graffiti could later be identified as the inciting incident of the play.

As the play went on, we watched Josh transform into a drug-dealer. Desperate to win Josh’s approval, and with the graffiti on the wall haunting him, James gave into pressure to smoke weed and to claim he had a girlfriend whom he had “fingered on the bus.”

All these small attempts to prove himself culminated in act three, when he downed half a bottle of vodka and was easily persuaded by Josh to take ecstasy. Drawing back on a challenge made by Josh earlier in the play, the intoxicated James then climbed on top of the wall. The tension was palpable as we all feared the worst and, sure enough, the act ended with James falling off the back of the wall.

The realization of this moment through stage effects was spectacular. As James toppled backwards, there was a sudden blackout, the sound of a crash and of Josh screaming. The lights slowly came up for act four with a dim spotlight focusing on the ‘Jammo is a gaylord’, now appearing to be written in blood. I still don’t know how they made James’s fall look so realistic.

The play was very short, a runtime of just under an hour. This was surprising in a world where we are so used to plays being of a certain length.

However, I do not feel the action could have been prolonged anymore. It was wonderful that we felt such a familiarity with these four boys after so little time spent with them. I think other playwrights should follow Scott’s example of keeping things short and sweet rather than pointless scenes for the sake of a longer play.

The accents were consistent and believable (or at least believable to me, a Londoner), and there was expert choreography of stage combat.

Llewelyn’s was the standout performance. Fidgety and gloomy, he brought across James’s innocence, which was tragic to watch be corrupted. It also helped that Lewellyn was significantly shorter than the other three actors in making us feel sorry for him.

Overall, the play provided a realistic glimpse into modern toxic masculinity that was nuanced and a refreshing departure from stereotypes of jocks. Peer pressure and the corruption of youth amongst boys was beautifully paralleled with the destruction of nature.

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