The second of four productions this term showcasing third year students on AUB’s BA (Hons) theatre courses features a cast of ten in a play derived from an original script by Creative Writing student Hannah Probyn-Duncan. At just under an hour and a half in length and played, wisely, without an interval, the production follows Edward, a young gay man, who runs away from home to make a new beginning in 1986 Bournemouth. At the same time, it seeks to explore and reflect (how accurately I don’t know) on the town’s LGBT+ culture from the period when AIDS was taking hold.
The play is structured in a series of short scenes; along with the slickness of the ensemble’s scene-changing, this ensures that pace is maintained and well-judged throughout, albeit with tonal variations between individual scenes. The writing itself tends towards the earnest, even in its more exuberant passages, at times at the expense of real depth of dramatic engagement. Similarly, characters vary in how much opportunity they give the actors, with six of the ten players doubling. Some of the characters are written on the level of the ‘morality play’, lacking any real opportunity for development or more than one-dimensional playing, perhaps not surprising given how much the play seeks to deal with in under ninety minutes. In terms of incident, too, there is, at times, a feeling that part of the writer’s brief was to ensure that a checklist of associated actions, props or other elements was thoroughly covered.
From within the cast, some performances seem a little tentative and would have benefited from greater commitment and conviction. Those characterisations that succeed to the greatest extent are, as might be expected, those for which the writing gives more opportunity. As Edward, Ty Sawyer maintains a fittingly understated performance, so that his character is plausibly on edge, comparatively shy and unsure of himself. Contrasting with and complimenting Edward is his partner Reuben, whose more extrovert nature is realised well throughout by Ollie Hiemann. As Edward’s mother, Nora Dahlquist confronts the greater challenge of playing one of the piece’s older characters well, particularly in her handling of her longest speech, towards the end of the production, as sensitively handled a passage as any in the performance; she is certainly given more to work with than her more stereotypically written husband, one of four none-too-tempting (from an actor’s point of view) characters nevertheless played with sincerity by Sam Koppel.
Along with those mentioned above, Saskia Newman has as interesting a challenge as any in the form of Edward’s sister, trainee nurse Lily. She meets the challenge well, providing a vital element within the play since she gives us a perspective from outside the whirlpool of the other characters – she does it effectively and without resorting to showiness or exaggerated emotion. As Avery, the surrogate “mum” to the group of guest house residents, Jester Walker grows into the part after early passages that could be more assertively exuberant given the writing – but it is the limitations within that writing that hold it back from realising the character’s full potential. I certainly don’t feel that a review covering every member of the cast is always necessary but it would be unfair not to mention Beatriz Nascimento Saramago, Amelia Shipton, David McGouran and Brandon Rabie since, above all else, this production depends on ensemble playing and on the teamwork that ensures slick transitions between scenes. Simple staging, judicious use of projections and plenty of up-tempo, driven 1980s’ music (my wife particularly enjoyed that) all work well in support of the performances.
From a personal point of view, it was intriguing to see a period in time through which I lived and that I remember well brought to the stage by a company of actors (and, I’m guessing, a writer) who would not have been born then. Whether the play’s title contains an intentional play on words, I couldn’t say but it concludes with performances at 2:30pm and 7:30pm on Saturday 12 November – and, at just £5 a ticket, it makes for a thoughtful, at times perhaps overly worthy, even simplistic ninety minutes.