Review: Spiders

Image credit: Laura Cameron

If you were to have serendipitously stumbled into Corpus Theatre on Tuesday evening (which I recommend you do all subsequent evenings this week) you wouldn’t have been able to guess you were watching a piece of theatre written by a student – in its writing and execution, Spiders was driven by the remarkable strength and intrigue of its characters and plot. Consistently witty and by turns touching and dark, the drama had you asking questions of its characters, their attitudes and your own both as you watched it unfold from you seat and a while after you left.

The way in which the two characters Harry (Alistair Henfrey) and Mia (Jessica Murdoch) were able to hold the audience’s enraptured attention for the entire duration of the play without any lag was a testament to the tremendous talent of the play’s writer, director, and actors. Harry, a homeless adolescent, and Mia, a middle-class runaway, provide you with a glimpse into a life on the margins, at once far removed from the experiences any of us will probably ever have, yet at the same time doing so from the very outset of the play in a manner that consistently invites the audience to identify with their quotidian experiences, like turning to television to avoid discussing serious issues. Henfrey’s Northern accent was executed without the sense the actor was putting one on, a feat that was even more admirable in the double challenge of acting out how a Northerner might imitate a Southerner when Harry impersonates David Attenborough.

From moments like his Attenborough impersonation to bathetically humorous admissions – “it’s a bit shit in’it?” – Henfrey’s lines produced some brilliant comedy amidst the more serious undertones of issues of class privilege, family relationships, and emotional burdens which the play explored. A hallmark of both Henfrey and Murdoch’s performances was that amidst these tense moments their facial expressions were both understated and sublimely emotive. Murdoch’s ability to portray varying degrees of shock was profoundly effective in conveying the chasm of experience between the experiences of the two characters. Similarly, the subtle movement of Henfrey’s eyes to rest of the dingy squat setting as he asks Mia, “what would your parents think of you being here?” was heartbreaking. One of the plays many charms was how often these moments of profundity emerged out of the very triviality of everyday existence, like in the games Mia devised for Harry, such as creating chatterboxes, which emerged as more authentic than the technology that became a foil to Mia’s home-made diversions.

The lighting and sound in moments of radio and television snippets, musical interludes, and news segments became important motifs within the play – moments of outside life intruding on the intimate world of the apartment and effectively adding tension to the plot – and their execution was excellent. The world of Mia and Harry was further made real by the unity of the play’s staging, set, and costume which effectively conveyed the harsh reality which marked their existences.

There’s so much more this review could say about the quality of its acting, the nuances, and resonances of its writing, but to save you time, I’ll just say: go see the play itself.


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