One For the Road and Twelfth Night: Reviewed

One for the Road

Having read and studied One for the Road, and being a big fan of Pinter in general, I was interested to see what a new director on the Mermaids scene would make of his work. Safe to say I was impressed.

One for the Road is an ambiguous one-act agitprop set in a totalitarian regime, presenting a man who works for the never-mentioned state and a family who are in their captivity. It is never revealed why the family are being held, and as each one of them has a scene with the man, he doesn’t so much interrogate them as simply exert his dominance.

Savage approached Pinter’s unique style of drama and dialogue with admirable skill, showing a clear understanding of the text. Apparently Savage had begun rehearsals by workshopping the Pinter-esque genre with his actors, and it showed. The conscientious use of blocking and precisely-timed pauses gave the dialogue (and often monologue) room to be heard and for every meticulously-chosen word to hit the audience with full effect. The deliberate changes in pacing were strong and effective choices that kept the audience on their toes, while serving to display the character dynamics well. The actors were accomplished in their performances, with the stand-out being Seb Allum, who played the lead role. He managed to give me goose-bumps, while his haunting delivery of certain lines still makes me shiver. His complete control over his physicality melded well with some ingenuous blocking around a sparse set, creating some striking visuals.

Savage not only stayed true to the message and tone of the play, but made some bold decisions also. While the script never defines the location of the action, Savage set the scene as the USA, with patriotic music playing before and after the play, and a large stars and stripes hung as a backdrop, providing the only colour on set. This choice was presumably made to highlight the risk of even the most famously liberal democracies slipping into authoritarian control. It was a brave choice, but succeeded in bringing the action to a more relatable 21st century. He gender-bent one of the characters from a seven year old boy to a girl, which added more layers to the uncanniness of her scene with the man. A favourite moment was the choice not to have a curtain call at the end, adding multitudes of ambience and refusing to give the audience the cathartic relief of remembering it’s all fictitious.

Overall I was incredibly impressed with the talent portrayed and the palpable command of Pinter’s writing displayed. The cast and crew should commend themselves on a job well done, as I can safely say that, for a Freshers Play, I was blown away by the quality.

Twelfth Night

What a charming, light-hearted romp through one of Shakespeare’s most loved comedies! Twelfth Night sees two ship-wrecked twins, separated but on the same island, tackle love interests, mistaken identities and suspend-your-disbelief-now cross-dressing.

The play began with a well-dressed actor strolling on stage playing some enchanting acoustic guitar, lulling the audience into a false sense of security that they were in for a sweet, romantic promenade into one of the greatest love stories ever written. However, the vibe was quickly burst and intensified with the entrance of Orsino (Oli Savage) declaring the famous line ‘If music be the food of love, play on’ with the most melodramatic delivery possible, and setting the scene for what continued to be a hilarious tongue-in-cheek display that kept me in fits until after the curtain call.

The cast all played multiple roles, which served as another layer of comedy when they could be seen changing costumes in milliseconds while barely offstage, to walk straight back on as another character completely. The distinctions between parts were very well performed, a personal favourite being Savage also playing the impatient and mischievous maid Maria, to many chortles. Similarly, when set was moved between scenes this was done in-character, with a nod to breaking the fourth wall, serving as yet another provider of laughs.

Staying true to their pantomime-style version, all the characters were larger than life, and every one of them found a place in the hearts of the audience. The interplay between Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Maria was particularly rewarding to witness; Osugo, Howie and Savage have wonderful comedic timing and played well with the audience. Some of the actors adlibbed gratuitously, though this could be forgiven due to the enthusiastic reaction these added lines received.

Perhaps the most famous scene from Twelfth Night is the unlikeable Malvolio appearing to his mistress in yellow cross-gartered stockings, smiling, and attempting to return her (supposed) desire for him. It is a scene that is always anticipated and raved over, and this performance certainly delivered. From this scene to his hysterical breakdown, Rowland had the audience in stitches.

The entire play, clocking up to just under 50 minutes, felt like a hilarious pantomime Spark Notes Shakespeare. The edit is laudable for its maintenance of important plot points while never letting go of anything that could get a laugh. The directors and actors alike had a delightful instinct for comedy, keeping the audience giggling long after leaving the theatre.

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