OTR review: Just As It Is

When Just As It Is began life as a Freshers’ play back in November, I was impressed. A comedy about a young girl visiting her older brother in St Andrews […]

When Just As It Is began life as a Freshers’ play back in November, I was impressed. A comedy about a young girl visiting her older brother in St Andrews and meeting his friends and flatmates along the way, the script (by co-director Alice Shearon) and the performance itself was funny, bright and endearing.

Unfortunately for Just As It Is, a return appearance lacked its previous charm. Whilst a few small changes have been made, essentially this is the same play. Most of the jokes were the same, all of the characters persisted and their set was virtually identical. And with several weeks to rehearse what is a very short play, it felt stinted and over-done.

Many of the jokes were successful and brought a genuine smile to my face. However, some felt too clichéd or over-eager. The character types were pretty run-of-the-mill (slut, player, geek etc.) whilst the inclusion of self-deprecating meta-humour (pointing out that siblings have different accents, joking that the characters’ lives seem almost like a play) was perhaps a mistake. At times one found oneself agreeing with the actors’ own criticisms of their performance. For much of the play, the audience rolled about laughing – but Shearon would have benefitted from heavier vetting.

As they chose not to recast (except by getting co-director Sandra Koronkai-Kiss to stand in for a small role), Just As It Is used the same actors as for the Freshers’ plays. This meant making use of some unskilled performers. Mark Tomlinson (Craig) had the same diction problems as he did back in November – he was nearly inaudible, and for a character whose humour relied on long, quasi-philosophical exclamations, this was a major problem. Fredrick Svennson also struggled to create a relatable character whom the audience could actually care about.

From the very start, long, noisy and frequent scene changes lent the performance an unprofessional feel. No-one likes sitting for half a play in the pitch black, and only one change covered this with music. When the lights did go down or up, they often did so at a bizarrely slow pace.

That said, a lot went right here too. Some of the actors were joys to watch; Ben Bonci (James), for instance, was as realistic and lively as before, even if his diction could have been more consistent. Coco Claxton (Lisa) triumphed. Hers was probably my favourite character, written well but performed even better. Charlotte Kelly (Charlie) had a very minor role, but acted it with much conviction and skill. The two main characters, Amy and Neil (played by Lauren MacLellan and Stephen Quinn respectively) could both have paced their performances better, but overall they portrayed very believable and empathetic characters. MacLellan’s facial expressions in particular were stunning. The use of lighting to differentiate between the play’s real narrative and episodic recollections was also a nice touch.

Just As It Is remained just as it was, and this return appearance for On the Rocks was not so justified as it could have been. This wouldn’t have been a problem had not some hit-and-miss acting, try-too-hard humour and dodgy stage management made it so. If Alice Shearon could leave Just As It Is for the moment, and start work on producing a second charming script, her energies would perhaps be better spent.