LEWIS WADE wishes this original and relevant play could have had a bigger audience
Corpus Playroom, 9.30pm, Tue 12th – Sat 16th November, £6/5
As my first experience of theatre in Cambridge, I could not help but be slightly nervous upon entering the Corpus Playroom. I needn’t have worried. Written by Harry Buckoke, Occupied proves itself to be thoroughly worthy of the “Other Prize”.
An incisive social and political satire based loosely on the occupation of Lady Mitchell Hall in 2011, the plot revolves around a hypothetical occupation of the playroom by radical left wing students intent on conveying their message to the general public. But what is their message? Comedy ensues when this, the critical core of the play, is explored by the politically correct protesters who rapidly begin to turn on each other. The witty presentation of key themes such as personal identity, sexual relationships and youth activism leaves you not only in stitches but also with a message relevant to today’s students about the seriousness of political radicalism.
Such an involving play with such a minimalist set could only be carried off by an able cast – and carried it off they did. Each performer was wonderfully engaging, in character even before the performance had started. Suraj Patel’s portrayal of Stewart, the self-appointed ringleader of the occupation, particularly captured the underlying irony of the play through his charismatic charm, quickly asserting his dominance within a group you would assume to be egalitarian. However, the commandeering of pop songs to criticise Nick Clegg, led by Zoe Higgins’ character Fran, was the highlight of the show, as shown by the shrieks of laughter I could hear from around the theatre when they were performed.
The shift to forum theatre at the end of the play proved to be slightly difficult due to the relatively small audience, but the performers proved adept at compensating for this regardless. Perhaps most impressive was the wonderful attention to detail: light cues were perfect throughout and in one scene a character even shot a video on her phone and proceeded to begin uploading it to YouTube, just as she said she was doing whilst performing – yes, I was looking. Such conscientiousness helped to create an immersive experience that drew the audience from the very beginning into the play’s distinctive organic fusion of naturalism and farce.
Opening night for Occupied proved to be an understated affair because of the audience size. This is a real shame, as it’s a thoroughly relevant play for Cambridge students and deserves greater recognition. The play therefore is a hidden gem – but hopefully it won’t be hidden for long.