Production: Otherwise Engaged
Venue: Drama Barn
My first impressions of what I would get from Otherwise Engaged was when at the start of term I sat in the dingy back row of the Drama barn and listened to the Director Jonathon Kerridge-Phipps briefly outline what this distant week 9 play would be like. Since then, following endless discussions with my flatmate about campus theatre and our various notions of what the plays would actually end up like based on those first impressions, I came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t expect much either from the play or the direction in which it would have been taken.
I humbly admit that, even with those prejudices I entered the performance with, Otherwise Engaged was both a brilliant play (well done there to the playwright Simon Gray) and an inspired choice by the director.
I’ve been in an Alan Bennett phase for a while now, coinciding neatly with his latest play and return to critical prominence, which Otherwise Engaged reminded me of.
The Alan Bennett-reincarnate, (in a complimentary way and also in a way that makes sense of the fact that the real Bennett is alive and well) that is Adam Alcock as the plop Wood acts his role perfectly, maintaining a deadpan demeanour whilst performing some of the best lines in the whole play unaware of their importance. The work is an uncomfortable meditation on existence put into unashamedly amusing terms. Live comedy is a difficult art that, especially in such a wordy script as this, can often be lost in performance as it can be on the page; the whole cast managed to defy this completely, retaining the humour throughout.
As Simon’s witty remarks, once managing to be both sharp and scathing of other characters, become tragically telling of a man who has stopped caring about anyone but himself, the actor Dan Wood undertakes the same transformation in his delivery. Once confident in his tone, by the end of the play we see Simon’s façade slip just as we see the emotionally damaged around him become more human than he can ever be.