MOLLIE WINTLE is lukewarm about some new student writing.
Corpus Playroom, 9.30 PM, February 4th-8th, £6/5
DERROGADE is the second play from student writer Tom Stuchfield to be staged in Cambridge and with it he has created a bold and polished piece of theatre. Equipped with a cast of four, DERROGADE follows a month in the life of the prisoner Harry Derrogade. We meet him alongside journalist Nat Harper and after a series of aggressive questioning sessions discover a secret which, you know, we weren’t aware of at the start. Unfortunately, whilst enjoyable and true to its tag line ‘a brand-new thriller’, the play ultimately falls flat due to its uneven pace and tendency to cliché.
But DERROGADE is a brave play, as indicated by its capital letters. It tackles heavy topics such as murder, mania and betrayal, and it is hardly surprising then, that the play slides towards melodrama. The dialogue is mostly delivered with gusto, but it gets tiring when Derrogade, played by George Longworth, has to spit out every line with the pained hatred of a killer. So much so that even innocuous statements like ‘somehow… I don’t really feel like talking’ made me grit my teeth. Similarly, the other characters we are presented with are formulaic: we have the sassy journalist, the good, weak cop, and the bolshy bad one. Whilst admittedly hard to create particularly complex characters in forty minutes, it would have been refreshing for Stuchfield to abandon these types.
These types are acted very well, though. Longworth is on stage for the entire play, and impressively manages an ominous characterisation of a villain in an extremely small space. Freya Mead delivers a confident performance in the role of Nat Harper, emanating charm and power, whilst Laura Waldren and Pete Skidmore give snappy and endearing performances respectively. There is a disharmony here though in the realms the characters are inhabiting. Longworth, Mead and Waldren offer stagey performances with enunciated vowels, prolonged eye contact, and mincing walks. Skidmore plays the role of the cop with a bumbling naturalism which, while charming, clashes with the melodramatic feel of the rest of the cast. He seems to shuffle on and off from another play. This is not helped by the fact that he speaks his lines very quietly. In contrast to this, the interaction between the other characters is much more energetic – the underlying sexual tension between Derrogade and Harper is particularly well-evoked.
The set demands special praise. Derrogade is trapped in the corner of the L-shaped stage by two walls of perspex. The staging masters the notoriously tricky design of the playroom, as the actor remains visible from every seat. In addition to this, it gives Longworth’s voice a spooky echoey quality. However, the main body of the stage is never used, and this is a real shame. The action feels all too distant: perhaps the ambition of the directors Tom Stuchfield and Harriet Cartledge, but if so it seems misplaced. Everything just feels a bit far away.
The main problem I had with the play, however, was the rhythm. The plot is strong, but let down by the slow start. This was probably to reflect the stagnant nature of Derrogade’s situation, but in that case I wish they’d been prepared to go the other way, and really push the silences here. The twist, when it comes, is everything a twist should be: unexpected, shocking, and neatly reflective of the themes in the play, but there is little sense of gratification.
I would urge people to go see this production for the successful realisation of a thriller, but I hope Stuchfield’s next play is as original in its execution as it is in his ambition.