According to Oli Savage, it’s a cursed week. His actor was late to rehearsal. The room he walked into was cluttered with scones, tea, and more chairs than you could possibly guess. By his own admissions, his hands are covered in blisters after trying to work on his van over the weekend. But for a man with a curse, Oli Savage is surprisingly chipper. Not surprising, given that he’s got, as far as I’m aware, 2 projects on the go, not to mention being on OTR committee, teching for the Revue, being in a band and running his own theatre company. With that much on, being anything other than chipper is just admitting defeat.
But this isn’t about Oli Savage, at least it isn’t meant to be. It’s meant to be about his play – Lobes. Lobes, written by Henry Roberts, is about X and Y, two members of a relationship that, at some point, went sour, told through the memory of X. That lens – memory – does a lot more than just give the play a piece of interesting dressing. It defines how every scene interacts with each other. “It’s the framework through which the relationship occurs,” the director quips, “and I think it’s important that it’s on stage because that’s what theatre does.” For Savage, whose work focuses on the unique aspects of theatre as a medium, this play sits right in his wheelhouse. In comparison to his last two projects – a semi-immersive adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and a UK tour of a self-written play about sexuality – this play seems very humble in its aims. When I stopped in to watch his rehearsal, that humbleness shined through. Lobes, more than anything else is a play about people, and it’s about the mundane moments of a relationship. A cute couple who’s a bit chilly and who’s eaten too much pasta. Romantic dinners with a meticulously curated soundtrack. And how distance grows between two people.
What sets these rehearsals apart from most others is an attention to detail distinctly uncommon within the St Andrews theatre community. Every action, every move of the face and the foot and the body and the mouth is all instantly questioned by each member of the cast and crew. But there’s never a sense of condescension, there’s never a hint of anything more than a desire to make the scene better. The questions are never directed at the actors as people, but rather as they are in their characters’ lives. You also almost never hear an imperative sentence coming out of the director’s mouth. Rather, every element, from the context to the location to even the wording of the scene itself is, for the most part, left up to the actors. Oli is extremely vocal in his rehearsal process. It’s as if he perches on the edge of an imaginary circle, which gets larger and smaller as the scenes progress forwards, always paying attention to the background of his scenes. His particular nitpick today was asking Anoushka, the actress playing X, to sit up, given she’s meant to be at a dinner table. It’s a small detail, but Oli keeps hammering it in, to the near frustration of his actors. The devil is in the details though and watching the scene, there is a noticeable change in how Anoushka and her partner, Bailey, act when she’s sitting straight.
But what’s struck me the most about this rehearsal thus far is how honest it seems. There’s a blending between the action of the scene and the action of the rehearsal that’s extremely uncommon, even for “realistic” modern two-handers. This may be because of the nature of workshopping a script, but it feels deeper, more endemic to the style of writing, the tone of the acting, and the actions of the director. And from what I know of Savage, his past work, his personality, and what he loves about drama as a whole, this represents a reconsideration of what an Oli Savage show is meant to be. As the rehearsal comes to an end, I ask Oli what these scenes are in the context of the show. He tells me that these scenes aren’t in the show. That these are there to add depth to a series of two- or three-word snippets throughout the play. And I think to ask him why bother with all the effort of creating scenes for something that only lasts a second, but I catch myself. Because I know the answer. It’s something that needs to be done.
It hasn’t always been easy for Oli to have his creativity shine through though. As is the case with someone pushing the boundary, there are always roadblocks. I’ve only ever worked with Oli once, and halfway through the show, we almost lost the venue because of Fife council disagreeing on what a Theatrical venue could be. Even with Lobes, Oli has received countless emails telling him that what he thinks is either feasible or not. His cover photo currently says “Apologies but we are not interested in your proposal,” a screenshot from an actual email sent to him. Not to mention his countless conflicts with the Student Union, with Mermaids, and with the University itself. “It’s hard, it’s really hard to know there’s not a lot of support – there’s not an institutional support network for me and the work I want to do…. But it’s shown me that I have some level of hardiness, that I can truck on through and take the hit.” That desire to keep working defines what Oli is and what he does, even if you don’t like the things he’s doing, his attitude can’t help but make him loveable. He’s like the Little Giants – driven to succeed far beyond his capacity, and able to make up for it with creativity. “If you want something to happen like this, the only person that can make that happen is you.”
It’s hard for me to sum up Lobes quickly because, for all I’ve seen, I still know so little. What I know is, for the most part, what’s on the Blurb: Lobes is about a relationship as seen through memory. I do know this though – Lobes is deeply and honestly real. And that comes from more than just the play itself. There is a sense when talking to the people who are involved in this play that they believe that the work they are doing is important. That it’s not just a basic student play. And a lot of that comes down to Oli Savage. He cares about theatre in a way that most people couldn’t care about anything. And I have never met someone who works so tirelessly at what he loves. And I think he sums up why you should see Lobes better than I ever could. “Because it’s different.” St Andrews needs more different. And I hope that Lobes leads to more projects like it.
Lobes is going up March 13th through 15th in the University School of Medicine. Tickets can be bought at this link here: https://fixr.co/event/362021532.