Words by Witiko Grevel
The UoM Drama Society makes a grand entrance with its first performance of Be Home Soon. Their first play of the academic year is written and directed by Liliana Newsam-Smith. The heart-warming story follows a young lost soul named Raf (Arran Kemp) who moves in with a stranger and begins to unpack his life with the help of friends new and old.
The play quite neatly begins with Raf bringing a painting onstage and placing it in a central position on an easel. This painting of a masked couple in each other’s arms stays on stage throughout the play. Looking in on Raf, the painting reveals itself to be a part of him and his struggles.
The intimate studio space allows the audience to indulge in the intricate plot line between Raf’s affectionate relationship with Mel (Evie Carricker) and his awkward bonding with his new flatmate Kaya (Natalia Leaper), seamlessly woven together. One slowly realises that Raf is trying miserably to move on in life. Despite something horrid that continues to haunt him about his past relationship.
Relying on a multi-purpose set, designer – Flora Scutt worked together with directors Liliana Newsam-Smith and Calima Lunt Gomez to introduce more of Raf’s furniture throughout the play beautifully gradually. A visual signifier perhaps of a slow unpacking of the main character. As he attempts self-therapy and reassembles his many memories with the ambition to move on with his life.
Raf appears equally glum before and after his relationship. When he is confronted by his absurd and impulsive girlfriend Mel, he appears stiff and introverted to say the least. She metaphorically carries him on her back to a date in France. Where they may begin a delightfully pleasant relationship with picnic blankets, star gazing, and high hopes for a living.
Similarly, his flatmate Kaya virtually jumps up out of nowhere to shock and disappoint Raf. She explains that he’ll need to socialise with yet another extroverted girl, this time bubbly and giddy. She ambushes him with help, coffee, and almost-one-sided quality bonding time. Raf doesn’t endeavour to reveal much of his past to her. Raf’s behaviour full of apathy and lethargy at this point reminded me much off how I had become after six months of lockdown in 2020.
Unlike Kaya, we the audience learn more about Raf and witness significant events from his past and quite a personal relationship. We start to see Raf’s character surprisingly loosen up to the sentimental song ‘Darling Be Home Soon’ by The Lovin’ Spoonful. He enjoys his time with his girlfriend and they become quite tipsy. Raf discusses the meaninglessness of his life in an almost Monty Pythonesque examination of the universe. Mel brings him back to Earth, reminding him that his little corner of the universe is immensely important to his tiny self.
They proceed to spar with wooden cooking spoons and colander helmets. No caring, simply enjoying their time together. This moment required expert choreography. Avoiding many potentially catastrophic stubbed toes, hit funny bones, and impaled backs on the very closely assembled and sharply cornered wooden furniture. After enough waiting, the couple realises that they are attracted to each other. They dare to follow through on their fourth kissing attempt and take off the colanders. Raf has truly let himself be liberated.
A return to the present day and Raf clumsily let Kaya see a picture of Mel. Then she sees a few more until she understands his backstory and the tragic end of his relationship, and Mel. She invites and encourages him to join her and her friends at the pub. A night of fun to cheer him up but despite her desperate attempts, he opts to mope at home.
Raf’s last memories with Mel show a struggle between them, followed by a seemingly forced amends. Raf chastises Mel for always avoiding reality. He blames her for supporting his ambitions as an artist which turned out unsuccessful much to the distaste of the Drama and Film students in the audience. Raf and Mel still manage to hug and make up.
Raf decides to pick up the phone and arranges to meet Kaya at the pub. As he leaves, he sees his faithful memory of Mel smiling over at him from his half-unpacked boxes. He has dealt with his memories to the point that he can look back fondly, without pain. His self-therapy has taught him he need not fear the past. Instead, he may enjoy the memories he has and try to make some new ones. As his resolution comes to light the dreamy tender song ‘Darling Be Home Soon’ returns and accompanies him out the door, and later the audience too.
An interesting aspect of this play is that although the supposed main character is Raf, most of the scenes end up focusing on Mel or Kaya. Their characters seem more animated or developed, occupying more space on stage and in the script. This effect means that Raf only takes over the reins halfway through the play when he finally has something to say. Perhaps this helps symbolise Raf taking control over his life again.
The limited use of music brought more significance to Raf’s rare states of contentment, the peace within himself and his tumultuous past. Its use in the ending also brought a hopefulness that with the substantial support from his new flatmate, he will open up. Once again having fun and developing a positive outlook on life. And not the email kind.
Overall, I must admit that this play showed real promise and it delivered. The acting and directing around the design all worked superbly together. They formed a very intriguing and delightful story that the Drama Society should be proud of. This first night was successful to the point of an immediate standing ovation. I let that speak for itself.