Beginning, Middle, End

LEO PARKER-REES’ one-night stand ends happily but isn’t quite true love.

Corpus Playroom, 15th-19th November, 9.30pm, £5-6 

Directed by Natasha Moules & Hatty Carman; Celine Lowenthal & Maddie Dunnigan; Check Warner & Amrou Al-Kadhi

[rating: 3/5]

This play, billed as the ‘heart’ of a six-month project, comes after an anonymous-text ‘Beginning’ and a rose-delivery ‘Middle’, and will be followed by a free trip to Paris, the ‘End’ for some lucky couple. It may seem odd to plan to conclude a relationship in such a romantic setting, but let them have their fun. While running the risk of being gimmicky, there was some appeal in the idea that the stories presented were all true; unfortunately, however, several of the performers failed to make the truth convincing.

The show began interestingly enough, with audience members greeted by a request to write down our own ‘Beginnings’ and leave them in a box onstage. What followed was fairly uncreative cross-cutting between a trio of stories, split into their titular three parts. Fair enough – simple can work, and this play isn’t about dramatic complexity, it’s about truth; about moving away from melodramatic Hollywood love scenes to real, honest relationships.

The problem with this approach, however, is that it makes the show depend heavily on the actors’ ability to convince, and some simply weren’t up to the task. Harry Carr’s Dominic, fun and funny in his Beginning, didn’t really ring true. The anger in his latter scenes was strong, but it was made less moving by lack of continuity. While it seemed natural, the characterful character from the start was lost. Sophie Crawford – the accompanying Alice – was similarly unconvincing, and for most of their scenes lines seemed to be directed more at the audience than at each other.

The story of Lisa and Jack (played by Deli Segal and Lewis Owen, respectively) was markedly beter. Ignoring some truly terrible dialogue (“THERE IS NO US!”), the performances were both strong, with Segal in particular demonstrating impressive naturalism as the nervous PhD student, flustered by her supervisor’s inappropriateness. She was subtle, funny and – most importantly – believable. Owen’s performance was also strong, but when it came to strong emotion he wasn’t quite as impressive – hindered, perhaps, by the ridiculous cliches he was spouting. You know what you’ve been doing, wearing those dresses, looking at me with those eyes. I’m a pervy older man, I am.

Izzy and Sam (Rozzi Nicholson-Lailey and Jack Parlett) provided the most moving story of the evening, with a difficult long-distance relationship. Parlett was at times difficult to work out (is it acting weird or weird acting?) but Nicholson-Lailey was spot on. Consistently convincing, she showed great range as the show went on; the giggly flirting at the start was good, and Izzy’s tears were the highlight of the evening. The pair shared a nicely staged Skype conversation, and though their ending wasn’t quite as strong, the silhouette of their final embrace on the projection screen behind them, slowly fading as the lights went down, was either a well-judged decision or an incredibly lucky mistake.

The promised End of the show was a disappointment. While a sweet idea, it was crammed in with the nonsensical idea that it might ‘make a new beginning’ for some of us. It’s a shame that they felt the need to crowbar in this justification, as the idea itself would have been fine.

Theatre is never really honest, but it was interesting to see a play with such a strong foundation in truth. These were stories that could have happened to the person sitting next to you. Although, for some reason, two out of three were about Oxford students. And the programme ominously admitted to the ‘re-interpreting’ of their events. So if you want to see someone’s interpretation of various events from the love lives of some Oxfs, this is probably the best place to do it. You won’t see true love, but you’ll see some truly impressive acting, and that’s a lot more fun to watch.

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