Theatre Editors JESSICA PATTERSON & TOBY PARKER-REES are pleasantly surprised by a thoughtfully curated evening of new writing.

Corpus Playroom ellie kendrick Hatch luke mcmullan mark wartenberg new writing nick ricketts Ollie Kay poetry

Corpus Playroom, 18th October, 9.30 pm, £5-6


Walking through the huddle of vintage finds and fashion-fringes we cringed; the evening smelt like Oxbridge onanism and inkily thumbed-in softies. Yet, forty minutes later, exiting through a cloud of artfully-effused clove smoke, we were converted.

The problem with reviewing things like this (and, contrary to its publicity, there are a fair few) is that by their nature no two evenings will be the same. A showcase of new writing is difficult to speak generally about, since it hinges so much on each new collection of performances. Hatch was many of the things you may expect from a ‘serious writing evening’.  Clichés dogged the poems like dogs, and many of the writers looked as ‘serious’ and melancholic as their prose. Luckily, however, Hatch was greater than the sum of its parts.

The Corpus Playroom is so fantastic a setting for a night of new writing that everyone older than Hatch’s creators should feel rather ashamed for not having thought of it first. It is intimate enough to prevent a subdued poetry reading getting lost before the back rows, but simultaneously enough of a stage to facilitate interesting blocking for short plays.

It was curated thoughtfully and arrestingly, with performers and pieces contrasting neatly. A five line poem followed a ten minute duologue, for example, so that had the audience’s attention flagged and waned they would be jolted back to engagement. Or, more subtly, a short play mingling mythology and totalitarianism was followed by a poem delivered with the arrestingly blank gravitas of a wry replicant.

As to the work, there were some annoying and pervasive traits. A wise man, who was probably called Paul Valéry, once said that he who cannot write a poem writes a list. The evening’s catalogue of items included spent string, sub-standard ice-cream, terracotta and paper clips. Numbingly affected imagery and contrived similes also grated. The phrase ‘belated pavements’, in what was otherwise one of the better examples of imagist picaresque, was as ridiculous as the phrase imagist picaresque, and diminished a moment just as we have this sentence.

These moments of disappointment, however, were quickly absolved by the genuinely inspired triumphs of others. Luke McMullan far outshone any of his performances as an actor, with a Saturnine slur that worked well with the elliptical imbrications of his poem. When the writer was not able to sustain attention it was always enjoyable to watch the reactions of their fellow contributors, who remained sat onstage throughout. There was envy, there were sighs, and once a yawn seemed to extend into a quiet nap.

The opiate-voiced Mark Wartenberg tumbled through his own piece, ‘hunger’, leaving us with a lingering addiction. The poem itself was a lengthy compilation of dream-like images and sensual recollections that rolled into a hypnotic journey. Contrasting this were shorter pieces of true wit. Sophie Peacock’s ‘maths’, a sort of inverted Joyce Grenfell monologue, detailed the thoughts of frustrated school students everywhere, finding a sympathetic ear in the arts-bent audience. Likewise, Celine Lowenthal’s ‘Small Hell’ fiendishly thrilled the audience with its cheeky revelations. In all, despite the odd discrepancy, the quality of writing was impressive.

The actors too deserve credit. The request that we consider their late-notice dedication needn’t have been served, especially in Jonny Aldridge’s ‘With my eternal friend’. Nick Ricketts’ valiant swigs of a wordy script on rum and ‘the non-rum that surrounds us all’ went down very well indeed.

As original script writing goes, this brief insight bodes well. Though by no means finished, the fragments seen illustrated a willingness to challenge the preferred norms of Cambridge theatre (Shakes-bourn). Not that they entirely escaped convention; Aldridge’s 70’s pastiche began to eat itself, and although Niall Wilson’s approach to the fallout of eugenics was original the premise reeked of GCSE Drama. The direction was similarly unimaginative, but perhaps more polish would have detracted from the disarming bumble of performance that never overshadowed the text.

Jessica: I entered Hatch a cynical northerner, distrustful of poets and beloved of frankness. I left very much the same, but with the knowledge that the two are not always mutually exclusive.  A revelatory experience that I would highly recommend.

Toby: It is our job to worry about the state of writing and performing in Cambridge, and this pleasingly-instrumented evening calmed our souls a tad. Tamara Astor was terrifying.