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Review: UCL Drama Society’s New Writing Festival

Phoebe Garthwaite reviews UCL’s 2019 New Writing Festival

The UCL Drama Society New Writing Festival was an evening consisting of four plays written by UCL students and spanned a wide variety of genres.

It's Not You It's May by Emily Murphy

This fast-paced comedy takes place in a small-town Theresa May Fanfiction Club. With not much in common other than their love for Theresa, the play follows president Claire (played by Izzy Gibbs) in her struggle to manage the bickering between members as her person life falls apart following the arrival of her son Ben (Sam Dodgshon).

She refuses to hear what he has to say and continues chairing her beloved writing club. Gibbs’ entire performance is an ode to May herself; tailored red suit, blue Tory rosette and ‘May’ny Theresa puns ensue. The writing was witty and the characters well formed, each adding comedy to the piece without overlapping in their ploys for laughs.

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The cast of It's Not You It's May

Played by Agnes Carrington-Windo, pernickety minute-taking James obsesses over carefully documenting the increasing use of expletives and awkwardly delivers an erotic piece of Theresa writing. A particularly hilarious performance came from Paula Moehring who delivered a monologue where Jeremy Corbyn attempts to run down Phillip and Theresa in a large red combine harvester as they picnic in a wheat field.

The absurd setting of the play was played to superbly; the plot remained consistently entertaining and generally well-paced. While the last scene’s bizarre and awkwardly choreographed group disco was comic it, however, dragged in length and left the play with an ending that was less than snappy. It’s Not You, It’s May was well-acted, farcical piece with a commendably unique concept. With the real-world shambles of the British government very real, light relief in the form of this political agenda-lacking piece is much needed.

Rating: ★★★★

Purple by Ella Fidler and Aude Naudi-Bonnemaison

Second on the bill was Purple, a play exploring the mostly untackled theme of asexuality. The play starts with protagonist Stacey running out of the house after freaking out when her and her boyfriend Sam tries to have sex with her. Anya Johnson's performance as Stacey encourages empathy; it's clear she feels frustrated at this seemingly ‘abnormal’ communication between her brain and her body. Her portrayal felt genuine and personable.

It was hard to distinguish the progression of time within the plot line. After her break-up with Sam, Stacey seemed to be set up only the day after with a mutual friend Tish (Maddie Dunn) in an attempt to explore her sexuality. Despite this accelerated plot line, Johnson and Dunn managed seamless onstage chemistry, navigating the incredibly relatable ‘how to flirt with someone when you’re dancing at a party’ with an endearing level of awkwardness. When the pair kissed – albeit briefly – afterwards, the choreographed symbolic chorus work upstage of tender hugs and loving touches between pairs worked as a good contrast.

The thematic peak of the play occurred when Stacey's cousin, played by Pablo Tembouray, visits her – and conveniently for the plot just happens to identify as asexual. Over the course of one scene, the two realise almost instantaneously their shared sexuality. While the familial love between these two characters was well portrayed and heart-warming to watch, it was slightly how frustrating how quickly almost all of Stacey’s identity questions were resolved and how she instantaneously felt at peace with herself considering her panic and frustration though the rest of the play. The reality of being asexual for many isn’t having a cousin who is too, but years of confusion and a sense of shame when opening up and talking about sexuality.

Rating: ★★★

Zoe's Room by Fred Varley

Varley's comedy play centres on seven year old Zoe (Ashley Hayward), a budding writer with a wild imagination and was a nice change of tone, offering some light-hearted nostalgia after Purple. The titular setting of Zoe's room is soon replaced with treasure hunts in collapsing caves, quests for prized jaffa-cakes accompanied by her brother, played by Jack Curtin. Taking on multiple different roles, Brandon Hilfer brought vivacious energy and comedy to the crazy storylines. The use of the stage space, corny sound effects and mattress was well executed; adding to the engaging nature of the scenes in Zoe’s imagination.

As the piece continued Curtin and Hayward did well in portraying their characters close bond, but their constant bickering as siblings became incredibly grating. It was arduous to watch at multiple points when the two seemed almost constantly annoyed with each other, squabbling over petty matters within their roleplaying adventures. It detracted from the wonderfully nostalgic nature that comes from classic childhood escapism which the piece was trying to capture. Zoe’s age also felt clumsily represented at times; repeatedly whining ‘piss off’ at her brother disrupted her childlike mannerisms. Seven year olds swearing in such a manner is abrasive and with no reprehension from her onstage brother, it really contributed to an unfavourable Violet Beauregarde portrayal of an otherwise sweet Zoe. While overall engaging and funny, Zoe’s Room was unmistakably tainted by an excess of bickering.

Rating: ★★½

Jammy Dodgers by Amy Tickner

This final play was instantly engaging and intriguing. The large cast standing unflinchingly still in clinical lighting, dressed entirely in white, created a ominous atmosphere from the get go. Tickner’s dystopian piece explored the migration of a group of selected people from Earth to a new planet.

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The cast of Jammy Dodgers

A social commentary on the enticing nature of fresh starts and the humanities fall from grace into repeating the same mistakes, Tickner’s writing felt refreshing and unique. The concept of running to your future or running from your past was explored wonderfully by Zsuzsa Magyar and Will Bennet in their roles as Aleece and Si respectively.

With the fate of the Old World never mentioned by any of the characters much of the piece had an unsettling undertone of denial and avoidance of past atrocities that led to the radical creation of the New World and its seemingly fair-handed system. The System (Ishaa Mane) executed her role exceptionally well. Her monotonous and saccharine repeated delivery of The System’s nonsensical and oxymoronic mantras contrasted the angst of the world’s inhabitant’s growing frustration.

The scene changes and snappy chorus formations gave the play a robotic feel; it was a well-rehearsed and directed performance. The dialogue between Aleece and Si was beautifully philosophical and asked much broader questions of the audience; what does anarchy lead to, is it the ultimate from of liberation, does human existence breed corruption and hierarchy? A great and well expected piece which finished the festival on a self-aware and contemplative note.

Rating: ★★★★