venue: Drama Barn
From the moment a clumsy, unbalanced steward stepped on stage and proceeded to interact with the trouble-minded playwright, we knew we were in for a stupendous one. Undoubtedly, the opening scene of the classic Stoppard farce certainly set a promising tone and atmosphere for the continuation of the play. From the beginning, the expectations of a humorous and eventful play promised at the entrance were met as the dedicated playwright Sandor Turai (James Wood) encounters the already presumably slightly intoxicated and unorthodox cabin steward Dvornichek (James Esler). As the story progresses, the audience is increasingly drawn into the romantic musical comedy drama between Natasha Navratalova (Georgina Wilmer), her stuttering lover Adam Adam (Sam Hill) and the lothario actor Ivor Fish (James Bowman). Overall, the performance effectively encompasses the elements of the tragedy of death and misery with ingenious aspects of humour, allowing the audience to anxiously anticipate the events leading up to the climax and eventually whether the tale of two young and star-crossed lovers ends sanguinely.
As Sandor requests what must have been his eighth glass of cognac, the onstage chemistry and tensions between the characters amplifies and encapsulates the spectators into the heightening drama. The well-rehearsed singing and remarkably convincing piano-playing abilities of the actors (which are later revealed to be the work of a characterless individual ingeniously hidden underneath the instrument) served to stimulate the seemingly increasingly dramatic plot. Despite several minor stumbles and the rather confusing artifice supposedly derived from “construction” rather than writing skills of Ivor for a new ending to an otherwise mediocre and bewildering script envisioned by Sandor, the actors effectively portray and array of emotions throughout the play. The second half of the performance leads to an exasperating and much anticipated climax which resolves in a romantic resolution which, overall, unquestionably amalgamates the well-performed, written, and interpreted play.
Congratulations must also be extended to both the costume designer (Maya Ellis) and the stage manager (Katie Garnett) who thoughtfully and engrossingly designed scenery, props and costumes that superbly reflected the ambience and essence of the play. Ranging from a champagne bottle that realistically popped when grappled open by Ivor Fish to the swaying overhead chandelier, the stage set excellently improved the quality and professionalism of the production.
Apart from the outstanding performance by all actors, most notably Josh Welch’s remarkable hang-over dramaturgy, to which every fresher in the audience could undoubtedly relate, and Sam Hill’s immaculate imitation of the French accent persistent to many native French speakers so often typified in Hollywood movies, the outstanding vocal performances and harmonies of all characters must also be praised.
Judging from the generous applause that filled the cozy Drama Barn as the metaphorical curtain drew to a close and the general buzz that prevailed as the audience exited the doors into a bitter early February night, the production rivalled many enduring Broadway and West End plays. Even as the crowd dispersed, I could distinctly hear several viewers quoting memorable lines and discussing their favourite moments.