Over and Out
ABI BENNETT enjoys new writing with cajones.
Fitzpatrick Hall – Queens’, 3-6th November, 11pm. £4/5.
Written & Directed by Paul Merchant
My heart sank at the opening of this play; onstage an exasperated teacher and some unruly children, about to do a dress run of a play. Such blatant ‘metatheatricality’: so banal, so outdated, so GCSE, I moaned inwardly. From then on in, however, things only got better.
Paul Merchant’s Over and Out weaves together multiple storylines, linking the coming out of 19 year old boy with political unrest in Cuba. This sounds a lot cornier written down, so please don’t judge. At the end, the teacher, commenting on the piece his ‘class’ just played out, bemoans the triviality of equating politics and love, and the emptiness of the metaphor. This neat self-deprecation assured me that Merchant was justified in employing a somewhat clichéd conceit.
The play was well constructed, easy to follow, and absorbing, though the dialogue sometimes clunked in a way the monologues didn’t. Natural conversations are possibly the hardest parts of a play to write, and although Merchant gave a good attempt, he didn’t completely succeed. That said, it was a damn sight better than most other new writing I’ve seen recently.
The acting was mixed; almost all the actors had fantastic physicality but then threw away a lot of their lines. In rushing to get to the end, they garbled them; poignancy sacrificed for brevity. If someone had taken them aside to say ‘It’s fine to breathe on stage, don’t worry’ the acting would have improved massively.
The best example of this was Peter Allen as Tom – physically his portrait of nervous twitchiness was perfect, but as soon as he opened his mouth it undercut the performance, making everything he did as an actor seem like stage fright. However, Eleanor Penfold as the Cuban waitress was brilliant; frantic yet controlled, and with an impressive command of the Spanish lines.
Dividing the action into clearly separate locations does make a conceptual headache when deciding how to stage a piece; and Merchant used some well-conceived lighting effects to clarify the different sections of the play. The only way he undermined the ‘Spanishness’ of the Cuban scenes was the inclusion of the English idiom of ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones…’ Although almost all the dialogue was in English, this jutted out, and lacked sufficient relevance to the moment to warrant its inclusion.
Although this production contained many of new writing’s ever-present pitfalls, it had such charm that it overcame them, and I came away smiling. All aspiring writers should go and see this production for a lesson in how to construct an interesting, unusual play, and but should perhaps ignore some of the less elegant bits of dialogue, and spend those moments making notes.