August: Osage County: Review

Oli Peat reviews ‘August: Osage County’ for The Tab

August: Osage County northcott northcott theatre the tab the tab exeter

August: Osage County is a brilliant piece of writing which won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and has been performed to critical acclaim, both in the US and at the National Theatre in London.

So, while EUTCo had some pretty big shoes to fill, they certainly chose a first class script. Before opening night, there was already a buzz surrounding the set, rumoured to be one of the most ambitious in the company’s history.

Northcott Theatre’s set

Walking into the Northcott, I’ll admit that its scale was certainly impressive, and the design was similar to the set at the National Theatre, for which what was more or less a full-size house was built on the Lyttelton’s stage.

If there was one thing which irritated me, it was the jarring between the wholly naturalistic elements of the set (real food, white picket fences, doors, furniture, etc.) and the industrial-looking structure of the ‘house’, constructed from scaffolding covered in a translucent gauze.

The ‘August: Osage County’ cast

However, any thoughts of discrepancies in the set were soon forgotten once the play began. Admittedly, the first act was a little slow – perhaps evidenced by the empty seat behind me once act two began – but overall the acting was of an incredibly high level.

Kudos to the directors for casting students who aren’t all paid-up members of the drama clique, as is too often the case. In August there were, among others, Mechanical Engineering, Sports Science and History students, ranging from first to third years treading the boards.

In rehearsal:  ‘August: Osage County’ (1)

Katherine Stevens, Elizabeth Ryan, Jordan Edgington and Kitty Wright were particularly fantastic playing Barbara, Mattie Fae, Charles and Jean, respectively. (Frankly, the majority of the cast would not have been out of place in a professional theatre company.)

For me, there were two disappointments when I saw the play on opening night – which should have been the second night of the run, but weather meant the original first night was cancelled).

In rehearsal: ‘August: Osage County’ (2)

The first was the character of Violet. I don’t doubt that Hannah Lawrence is a talented actress.  However, while the rest of the cast managed convincing central-southern American accents, hers veered from deep south to Catherine Tate’s nan, which distracted from what was an otherwise sound, if slightly hammy, performance.

The second issue for me – without wanting to sound too sceptical – was the audience. It appeared to be largely comprised of students who knew those involved with the show, and whose whooping and hollering throughout the play made me feel as if I were in a pantomime  rather than a piece of serious theatre.

The ‘August: Osage County’ cast and directorial team

Overall, despite a couple of gripes, EUTCo ought to be commended for putting on a bold and challenging piece of student-led straight theatre in the Northcott. There has been far too little of it during my four years in Exeter. Bravo, EUTCo, for  doing so to such a high standard.