REVIEW: Are You Sitting Comfortably?

HOPE MCNULTY went to see Roald Dahl’s anthologies brought to life at Corpus

are you sitting comfortably Corpus Playroom Roald Dahl student theatre Theatre

Are You Sitting Comfortably? is a very busy play.

Flashing lights, flickering TV screens, murder weapons, jarring music, even a dancing Roald Dahl – there’s a risk of getting left behind if you’re not paying attention. It’s a play presented with a wicked sense of humour and child-like enthusiasm, but the performances don’t quite reach their full potential.

The play opens with children whispering in a darkened room, their speech overlapping so it became harder to understand what they were saying. The eeriness of this was offset by it going on slightly too long, which left some audience members confused as to whether the play had actually started. However when the first interlude of physical theatre began with a bang, it set a precedent for the exuberance with which this play continues.

Although it’s not particularly clear what the physical theatre adds to the production, it’s integrated very well with disconcerting technical elements.

Jake Spence and Laura Pujos, credit Benedict Flett

The main content is in the anthological “mini-plays”. They’re adaptations of Roald Dahl’s short stories, and director and writer Eloise Poulton has done an excellent job with these. The thematic elements of perception of reality and social taboos are clearly realised across all four plays, and the chaotic humour she has brought gives the plays a considerable edge. This was best demonstrated by Laura Pujos and Jake Spence in one of the plays.

Both actors gave very naturalistic performances, which contrasted against the highly stylised presentation to create an inverse naturalism. This summarises the cleverness of this production, subtly undermining the audience’s expectations to make them uncomfortable.  The “rewind” scene was hilarious, and using Spence’s “dead” body as a prop was a twisted and brilliant idea.

Across the other stories, Eleanor Booton made a wonderful mad scientist with excellent comedic timing and Matt Gurtler carried what was essentially a one-man show for the final story with respectable effort. Jake Kroeger and Anastasia Raymond’s physical theatre was well performed and adequately disconcerting, However, the size of the ensemble cast meant it was difficult to pick out any other performances in particular.

This worked in favour of creating a sense of confusion and fluidity that fit the thematic narrative, but often the stage became too crowded and with actors all playing multiple roles the characters lost depth and focus. Despite being advertised as “terrifying and exhilarating” most of the characters had so little to do onstage they came across as lacklustre.

The clipped RP accents were cliched and unnecessary, especially as some actors struggled to maintain them for the whole performance and there were a few stumbles over lines. 

Eleanor Booton, credit Benedict Flett

Particularly impressive throughout this production was the use of television screens. Playing a series of relevant images and short videos during the performance, they were an artistically strong choice but also amused the audience. Throughout, the audience were pointing at them, clearly responding in with the exact discomfort the director had planned.

Lighting designer Karolina Hes and musical director Jago Thornton have both done excellent jobs at integrating the lighting and sound to create an immersive and appropriately jarring experience, with unexpected changes and clever effects.

Are You Sitting Comfortably? had the creativity, intelligence and direction to be a 5* play, but it was a production operating on two different levels. The technical elements were considerably stronger than the overall performance by the cast and at times overrode the action onstage. 

The cast would have benefited from being pushed just a little further to tighten up their performances and engage with the subversive subtext, rather than relying on the discomfort of the script to deliver depth.

A clever and enjoyable play, but unfortunately weighed down.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars