Reviewed: Oleanna

“high octane and thought-provoking”

durham student theatre oleanna

To stage a two person play and, what’s more, set it in a small and intimate space, is a big risk – everything from the actors to the props is under a greater level of scrutiny, as the intensity and minimalism of the performance exposes all flaws. That said, after watching last night’s production of Oleanna, this was definitely a risk worth taking.

The choice of location – the Empty Shop, at the entrance to the Gates shopping centre – was perfect. Immediately you are launched into the world of the play, as much a part of the set as the characters. Producer Cordelia Yeung must be applauded for her transformation of this room into a very believable office space, where all details were accounted for down to a tee. The soundtrack, composed by Sondre Bryntesen, was used effectively throughout the opening scene, and the dissonances and extended instrumental techniques generated a palpable tension. However, there were moments that I feel would have benefited from a simple soundscape style soundtrack, as opposed to continually building upon the discordant harmonies and scattered melodies.

Mamet’s play is steeped in philosophical questioning, particularly regarding ethical dilemmas, and director Chris Blois-Brooke excelled in bringing these themes to the forefront of the play, allowing the audience to be more involved within the production. Rather than just watching, I found myself caught up within the power struggle, continually reforming my opinions on the drama and with who my sympathies lay.

The relationship between student Carol (Daisy Cummins) and university professor John (David Myers) was well developed. They embodied their characters’ motivations and feelings from the on-set and embraced the transformations their characters underwent. They pitched the more climatic elements of the play perfectly, however, in the quieter moments the energy was sometimes lacking.

Both Myers and Cummins tackled the vast amount of text incredibly well and I particularly enjoyed Myers’ deliverance of rousing and complex cacophonies of philosophical thought. The shift in Carol between the beginning and end of the play could have occurred more slowly and subtly, and it would have been nice for more elements of the nervous and self-deprecating student to be present in the second scene.

For me, the most outstanding moment in the performance was the culmination of the power struggle. For such an intimate space, the actors were completely unfazed by the audience and it was in this scene that they really showcased their incredible acting abilities. The intensity and raw emotion they brought to it was superb, and the text really came alive.

This high octane and thought-provoking production is not to be missed.