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30th January 2023

Review: Tiramisu (UMDS)

Tiramisu, which was performed at the University of Manchester SU, is an excellently existential adaptation of Annie Baker’s The Antipodes
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Review: Tiramisu (UMDS)
Photo: UMDS

The air is tense and the stakes are high as Costello (Fisher Rose) urges his employees to think of the most original and cutting-edge plot. He wants his film to take the world by storm. Through lengthy meetings, the board room members sweat, debate, and mull over stories about sex, monsters, and existentialism. The end is just out of sight but suddenly Costello pulls the rug out from under their feet. The film project is over, but they still search for closure in the storm they have awoken.

Costello is the son of a successful film director and producer and tries hard to fill the shadow left by his father. His insecurities show as he scrambles to push his cohort in whichever way they possibly can to think of a plot for their film. The employees are comprised of the frustrated Nathan (Oljas Kudabayev), the happy-go-lucky Charlotte (Alice Omeara), the team supporter, Rufus (Finnen McNiffe), and the left-out secretary, Jane (Jeannie Tanner).

The group begins with recounting the “best sex they ever had” and circle the office table as each character takes the spotlight in front to share the various stories. From trying out a new kinky dating app and first love to finding true love, they all have something to contribute. Costello misses his turn and the topic swiftly moves on. His insecurities of being an inadequate son are too strong and he must maintain his position above the others.

The others seem to have their character flaws as well and have a void to fill. Nathan complains about not achieving enough in his life. He isn’t sure if he had a bigger destiny to fulfil but more importantly doesn’t know if it’s too late to change himself and who he is. Charlotte, a light comedic character, has money problems and fills her time with food and alcohol.

Jeanie wants to feel included in the process and in the end develops into the mother of the group and an element of comfort for the endless worries of the other characters. Rufus also seems unsatisfied and forever curious about the existentialism of life and mortality and questions if and how you would live as the last human on Earth.

The set was made up of desks pushed together, office supplies, an idea board, piled cardboard boxes and a substantial supply of water bottles. Food is even brought in for the employees to eat. The resources seem endless and the space more than adequate for the project to run its course, yet the play is filled with ambiguity as each character works hard sharing stories and ideas but aren’t sure what they are working towards. This environment for the play invites the audience to question the efficacy of the characters’ brainstorming and seems to return us to Nathan’s life crisis.

Even with all the possibilities available, the team don’t make any substantial progress in their film plot, just as Nathan hasn’t achieved much in his life. This lack of direction, even with all the resources possible, brings to question the existential aspect of these characters’ lives.

One key moment from the play was the discussion of space and time, the stars, and the millions of galaxies. All this making our lives as humans look miniature compared to the vast expanse of the universe. All cast members stood or sat on the desks in a “V” formation, looking above and beyond the audience as a harsh white light shone at them, giving the impression that they were looking through a space rocket window at the vast expanse outside. This moment provided a healthy balance from the incessant worrying of the characters over deep complexities within their lives and created a moment of external thought and clarity.

Further along in the play, the characters discuss what “the monster” should look like. It seems they have finished discussing their fears and worries and are now trying to find a shape to embody all their suffering. They proceed to give instructions to Jeanie, who draws whatever they suggest, and an absurd and messy scene develops in which everyone is scribbling and destroying the poster.

Towards the end, Jeannie takes further control in her efforts to help the group. Costello has stopped the project and the characters are left to themselves. Ritualistic and repeated synchronised movements of different postures at the table convey a summary of the amount of time and effort they put into their ideas.

Jeannie begins singing her tranquil Irish folk song, and one by one, the others join in and lay their heads down in their hands to sleep on the desks. Nathan is the last to be put to rest as he is gently let down by Jeannie and left to rest on the floor as pieces of torn paper are sprinkled over him. This sequence conveyed Jeannie as an element of stability for the group preventing them from exasperating over the failure of weeks and maybe months’ worth of work.

The journey of these characters exposed and explored their vices and insecurities and brought them closer together. They eventually realised that their work and meetings weren’t about finishing the project but that they were really trying to solve all of life’s problems. Their ambition was strong, and despite the idea for the film failing and funding being cut – an idea in itself well known among the UK population – they manage to stick together and quell their worries.

Tiramisu, a devised play with inspiration from The Antipodes, was directed by first time director Lennie Bryan, produced by Seb Moulds and designed by Siân-Louise Montgomery. Originally intending to stage a different production, this play was devised in two weeks, and the production was finished, and story accomplished, marvellously.

On reflection, Bryan states that with more time they could have worked on creating more empathy for the characters, a stronger linear thread between the scenes, and greatly increase the destructive climax towards the end. Until perfection is achieved, the cast, crew, and creative team will have to settle with the masterfully complex and spectacular story of Tiramisu.

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