From the start, I am made aware that this is no ordinary play.
Writer and director Alice Tyrrell encourages us to surrender our bags and coats as we, the audience, will be moving throughout the performance. We are also given a choice of which corner to start in. In the absence of knowledge of the plot, it is this bizarre, innovative structure which attracts a large audience to the Judith E Wilson studio.
A Play In Four Corners does exactly what it says on the tin. In each lit-up corner of the studio, a character tells a unique story about the exact same event – a house party in Cornwall which they all attended. Mabel (Sophie Atherton) is a heartbroken, fashionable photography student, the foil of lovestruck, sweet Anna (Emily Beck). Kit (Amelia Hills) is the quirky, artsy textiles student coming to terms with their gender identity, and their best friend Bertie (Will Hale), a typical broke, casual-drug-taking student. So it seems initially, but it is only once you have heard all four of them speak that the story falls into place, like different puzzle pieces coming together, and a well-rounded characterisation is formed.
The difficulty of writing a review on A Play In Four Corners is that the subjectivity that forms the premise of the play is something each viewer necessarily adopts.
Just as each character has their version of events, your opinion on the event is coloured by which character you first listen to. In choosing to begin with Mabel, I inherently have a different opinion than someone who started with Anna, having formed preconceptions of her from Mabel’s version of events. We are attributed the same singularity of perspective that the characters get. We are always closer to the centre of the narrative (and the stage, as we are set out) than we think.
The structure of the play is initially disorienting. All four characters start speaking at once, and it was hard to focus on the one in front of you. It is clear to see the reason behind the overlapping – each character’s story, while unique, cannot be disconnected from each other’s. There is an incongruence between the intimate nature of each monologue and the invasion of hearing another at the same time, such that the play’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Though it is qualified with (perhaps unplanned) moments of genius, such as when Mabel’s singing matched up with Kit talking about hearing that song.
The character of Mabel explores a tension between wanting to establish her own ‘bulletproof’ identity while coming to terms with her past attachments.
To this effect, Sophie Atherton’s performance is brilliantly nuanced and she is convincingly conflicted. Emily Beck is a wonderful Anna, sweet, lovely, and quietly conflicted about Mabel. Her quiet voice was frequently drowned out by the loudness of Kit and Bertie at several moments, preventing true justice being made to her character.
Amelia Hills stood out in their performance of Kit. They explore what it means to be non-binary and the way it effected their version of events, a refreshing queer voice shutting down gendernormative structures. Bertie also adds a fresh perspective of coming from a different class background, distancing himself from the other characters’ worlds of Bayliss and Harding products and fancy boots. Will Hale begins introverted and understated, and progresses into someone powerfully emotional, with a strong stage presence. Ending with Bertie’s story seemed to me the most fitting and conclusive – but this may have been the opinion of everyone else too. Each to their own, I guess – such is the entire premise of the play.
Alice Tyrrell, riding the wave of success from last year’s The Ladies, continues to impress with experimental writing and directing.
They subvert traditional structures of theatre and invite us all to explore the infinite possibilities in student theatre – and the infinite perspectives of one house party in Cornwall.