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31st January 2023

Review: Triumphs and Falls (UMDS)

Triumphs and Falls, which was unconventionally performed at Retro, is a strong, complex and relevant play made for a student audience
Review: Triumphs and Falls (UMDS)
Lizzie Rackstraw and Lara Wantling. Photo: Joey Miller

Triumphs and Falls exhibits the talent of freshers students from the University of Manchester’s Drama Society as they tackle problems of friendship and deviating paths.

The Drama Society presented an intriguing and thought-provoking group-devised performance at Retro Bar, directed by Evelina Black and Joe Taylor, and produced by Ned Blackburn. We follow the story of Alex (Isabel Macintosh) returning home after a long time and witnessing how different her old friends have become.

Alex, a rising star in the acting world, achieved unexpected, immediate success from her first role in a film and has ridden the path to fame ever since. She has recently come to the spotlight over a scandalous violent video from her adolescence that was anonymously leaked. Taking a break, feeling a bit lost, and in need of comforting, she visits home and all the friends and family she has been neglecting. At the same time, her old friends are coming home from university or travels, and they are all wondering how it will be to see each other again.

Using clever cross-cutting between characters and slow release of background information during the scenes, we are introduced slowly but surely to the gang. Cosmo (Nat Allbut), an easy-going, hip private school boy is a travelling actor who seems to have found himself in many a European and Latin American country but is still excited to come home and have everyone back together.

Tilly (Harper Towns) is the edgy nerd, younger sister of Alex who has been trying to contact Alex for over a year and has almost given up on her sister. Jake (Lucas Everett) is a depressed and discouraged young man trying to find some glimpse of a better future. Unlike his friends, he never left his hometown and works at a coffee shop. He still aspires to land a role in a play one day and is quite jealous of the career his friend Alex has made herself.

Jenny (Lara Wantling) is an unsure university fresher who hasn’t been totally convinced by her drama degree. She wants to switch to Sociology, and she hopes to enjoy that more. The way she behaves gives a sense that something went wrong, and she no longer enjoys being the party girl she once was.

Lucy (Lizzie Rackstraw) is the life of the party. Always has been and always will be. She’s full of herself, and full of jealousy for Alex. We wonder whether her intentions are well-meaning or if she just wants to mess with Alex. She can’t wait to go out with her friend Jenny, but this doesn’t all go to plan.

The play delves into the complicated relationships between the characters, though mainly between them and Alex. The sisters have a stale relationship, made apparent when Alex invites her sister to the pub with her friends and seems oblivious of how lost she is to her sister. Tilly finally confronts Alex about this in a profound argument which seems to resolve itself when Alex finally realises she needs to be there for others when they need help and not just ignore them until she needs attention. They end up spending more time together discussing their problems and reading books.

Alex feels distanced from her friends, fearing they don’t understand her and her problems: a celebrity facing scrutiny. After a meet-up in the pub goes drastically wrong and Alex, alienated, leaves in a storm, she doesn’t know who to turn to.

We see a tense and lively scene in which the animated and bustling Lucy doesn’t give up in trying to persuade her friend Jenny to go for a night out together. Lucy is energetic and trying her hardest to cheer Jenny up. After enough peer pressure, Jenny submits to the alcohol, and they go off to have a fun night out to make up for Jenny’s terrible first year at university.

Later, Jake nervously asks Cosmo to help him prepare for his audition for the role of Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk. His attempt is intense and full of ferocity as he tries to give Jack some pertinent emotions, and as Cosmo tries to kindly critique him, he receives word that Jenny is in the hospital and has fallen from the balcony of a club! This begs to question which architect thought a balcony in a club was a good idea.

Cosmo convinces Alex to come see Jenny in hospital. Cosmo still views Alex as the silly little girl from his childhood, not a superstar, and not caring what she has to say about it drags her there. This leads to her sitting next to the most jealous of her friends, Jake. In a bitter conversation between the two, Jake tells her how she was lucky to get the dream all their friends had and still have. He admits to having leaked the incriminating video from her past. He apologises later in voicemail.

We then witness a calming scene with nostalgic music as Alex looks through old photos from good times she had with her friends. In the background is Jake’s sincere apology over voicemail, saying how awful it was of him to leak the video, letting the media view her as a violent freak. He seems earnest in his regret for what he did and this is confirmed in the final scene when he talks to Jenny about it and helps her around in her crutches as she slowly recovers.

Though the friends’ problems weren’t completely resolved at the end of this play, it gives a realistic impression of wounds healing and the complex world of keeping old friendships alive. A bittersweet ending brings closure nevertheless after the audience got the full impression of the world surrounding this friendship group.

This play explored important themes related to students leaving their old lives behind and beginning work and university, giving a sense of common ground for the student audience. There were several characters to keep track of but slowly I felt I got used to them and it seemed fun to anticipate who would turn up next and what trouble they would cause, slightly like in a sitcom.

The staging of this play in the bar included action around and between audience members, which seemed to perfectly emphasise the emotions in the play, creating an atmosphere of comprehension and inclusivity into the friends’ world. With actors entering and exiting between and in front of the audience, getting to and from the corner-stage, a sense of travelling and moving on was apparent throughout the play. This seemed to symbolise the reassembling of the characters one more time, before they once again head off in different directions, some of them closer and more compassionate than before.

Overall, a strong, complex, and relevant play, carefully crafted to explore familiar difficulties and successfully gaining the affection of a standing ovation.

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