Venue: The Drama Barn
Run: 9th-11th December 2011
Director: Adam Alcock
Producer: Beth Yarwood-Smith
Adam Alcock’s remarkable production is both witty and refreshing, serving as a brilliant close to this term’s season at the Drama Barn.
Simon Gray’s 1971 play follows a day in the life of Ben Butley, T.S. Eliot academic at a London university. We are introduced to the people in his life and watch as his antagonistic nature pushes each one away. Whilst this provides many moments of hilarity throughout, in the second act reality sets in and we watch the personal relationships of our antihero disintegrate.
The consistently high quality of acting in this production was outstanding, and Dan Wood’s portrayal of the mischievous professor was particularly impressive. Wood commanded the stage from the opening, and employed great comic timing and an accent that brought “Brief Encounter” to mind. Never leaving the stage, Wood’s characterisation was detailed and convincing throughout, even during the more lugubrious moments of the second act. His performance was contrasted very well by Freddy Elletson’s depiction of the professor’s conscientious ex-protégé and flat mate, Joey. Despite the dominating nature of Butley’s character, Elleston was in no way outshone; his reactions to Butley’s farcical behaviour were equally as amusing as the behaviour itself.
The supporting cast was saturated with great performances. Helena Clark’s Edna was as humorous as it was believable, Pete Watts’ Reg had a stolid yet schizophrenic temperament that worked brilliantly next to Butley’s energy and Helen Peatfield’s adoring Miss Heasman was very entertaining.
Whilst I run out of synonyms for “amusing”, it is important to mention that this play is not always about the laughs, and one of the more impressive aspects of this production is skill with which the melancholy moments are conveyed. Wood may deliver a punch line well, but he portrays a broken man even better.
This play is a gem, and performing it on campus brings a whole other element of humour to the piece. Alcock’s selection and execution of “Butley” is to be applauded. It has certainly left me wondering what happens behind the closed doors of our subject departments.