If you’re faced with the task of putting on a classic play, it’s understandable to think about what you could do differently – what your production’s USP is. Presenting it in a traditional way is all well and good, but shouldn’t you be saying something new and speaking to the here and now? Only if you’ve actually read the play in question and have a thorough comprehension of its subject matter and key themes – unfortunately, in Felicity’s case, she’s very much out of her depth from the word go.
Drunken Brainstorm’s play How to Mend the World (With a Student Play) sees director Felicity, her boyfriend Ben (also assistant director), movement director Jonty, and designer Christian in a race against time to conceptualise their student production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. It’s W1A meets Theatreland, as Ben watches his clueless colleagues come up with a series of buzzwords, soundbites & downright ridiculous thoughts in a bid to make the play relatable to a modern audience (and so secure valuable funding from the board) – little realising that there are few classic plays more pertinent to the current climate of political instability and fake news.
It’s a great piece of commentary on the obsession that can grow over creating the perfect concept for a show; sometimes it’s clear that a director was more worried about how the play was presented rather than what the text actually says – in doing this, the concept lays on top of the play like a tablecloth, rather than doing anything to enhance what is being said. A concept or idea is fine if it becomes intrinsic to the storytelling and makes a clear & valid point; the Young Vic’s production of Death of a Salesman is a good example, as it cast actors of colour in the Loman family roles – it doesn’t detract form the story, or seem like change for change’s sake – far from it, as it actually encouraged a whole new audience to see the play. The Yard’s version of The Crucible, too, was something to aspire to.
Some of the ideas that Jonty comes up with seem to be the products of a fever dream (the whole squirrel scenario was definitely one of my favourites), though Felicity and Christian can’t get enough of them – and Felicity’s hashtag matrix is another brilliant addition to the hunt for the perfect idea. But the audience isn’t simply bombarded with these suggestions and left to imagine them all, we also get to see a few of them! There are several well conceived imagination scenes (think JD from Scrubs on one of his daydreams) that bring several of the group’s thoughts to life.
This 45-minute play is hilariously funny, with excellent performances from Tilly Price as Felicity, Ollie Tritton-Wheeler as Ben, Francis Nunnery as Jonty, and Liam Hurley as Christian (directed by Josh Silverlock). Nunnery in particular stands out; he has a great physicality as Jonty tortures both himself and his colleagues in the quest for brilliance – instead eliciting more & more laughter as his behaviour gets increasingly frantic and over the top. The entire company perform impeccably in this timely farce.
My verdict? A slick and funny take on the quest for the perfect theatrical concept that quickly descends into farce – the cast of four are excellent.
How to Mend the World (With a Student Play) runs at theSpace on the Mile until 24 August 2019. Tickets are available online or from the box office.