Matt Gibson is by no means a new name to the St Andrews comedy scene. Few people have spread themselves as far and wide across the assortment of Bubble Baths and Sandy’s Sundown Stand Ups. It is unsurprising, then, that he decided to dip his toe into turning his comedic talents to writing and directing. The result was the short play, The Society.
The play centres itself around Warren: a fifth year St Andrews student, newly returned from his year abroad, who has realised far too late that he has absolutely nothing on his CV (save his oncoming 2.2) that will help him gain employment following his graduation. The result of this final year panic is the creation of The Society: newly formed and with absolutely no idea of its purpose. Sadly, as a fifth year, Warren’s friends have graduated and he is left with a particularly motley crew of two first years and one vaguely alarming second year to try to make his society a success (or at least save it from being shut down by the union).
Gibson’s directing was not particularly heavy-handed, meaning the performances often felt like they came organically from the actors. This is not necessarily a criticism; despite occasional overacting, the cast was generally very competent with good comedic timing. Special mention should be given to Nishant Raj, however, who – compared to the rest of the baby-faced cast – looked like a world-weary uncle attempting control his unruly nieces and nephews.
A simple set provided the opportunity to play around with the technical aspects of the play, and some of the moments where I laughed hardest were during the melodramatic switches to spotlights and the production team should be commended for attempting to keep the play visually interesting.
The biggest problem the play faced was its very narrow focus. Even for a play set in St Andrews for students, its target audience was far too small. One particular joke focusing on the celebrity-like status achieved by certain students was very funny, if you happen to know who Sean McDonald, Frazer Hadfield or any of the other people mentioned were. If you didn’t, then you listened to someone go on about the popularity of people of whom you’ve never heard. Comedy should be inclusive to all, and sadly, The Society failed to achieve this.
There were, however, really lovely moments throughout the play. The decision to offer popcorn to all audience members as they arrived or Frazer Hadfield’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance were small details that really added to the sense of fun. Similarly, the moment when the lights went up and Gibson’s hasty warning to his cast not to say anything rude about Owl Eyes as they were reviewing that night (and yes – I did laugh) made it clear that this production was more than happy to poke fun at itself.
The Society did not have grand ambitions: it was a small play about a small aspect of life at St Andrews. If it had attempted to be something greater than the sum of its parts, it wouldn’t have achieved it aims. As it is, it’s self-awareness and willingness to laugh at itself made it rather charming. Despite the not insubstantial problems, Gibson can be happy with his first foray into writing and directing.