The Corpus Freshers’ Play, ‘Grade Expectations’, is self-described as ‘'a shoddy, at best, three star production claiming to be meta-drama'’ that can only be put on ‘'because Corpus share a name with the playroom'’. This isn’t far off the mark. True to tradition, the Corpus fresher’s play is a bit shit. But at least it knows it.
The audience are greeted by writer/director/grating protagonist, Peter, a.k.a. ’Pablo’ Price, at the Playroom door, and are soon thrown into his manic mind of questionable sobriety and an anti-anti-humour. The production opens with Price’s barks at the cast and crew to get everything in order, which of course it isn’t; disorganisation and theatrical fuck-ups are a running gag that is constantly (and sometimes desperately) grasped at as the chuckles wear thin throughout the clumsy sketch show. The spotlight comes on in the wrong corner of the stage in a monologue intended to be dramatic, and jolly music starts playing at a moment that’s supposed to be emotional, etc. By its own meta-theatrical admission, it’s completely terrible.
The show is peppered with low-grade humour, but Price reminds us that he’s highly aware of this by shouting remarks like ‘'that’s a cheap joke, I know'’ from the audience, which only somewhat excuses any gags that don’t quite deliver. Coupled with a distasteful jibe at consent workshops and a joke about people being oversensitive to racism (always enlightening coming from white men), some of the play does not only fail to entertain, but actively offends.
And yet, moments of genuine comedy do reveal that some of the cast are truly talented; Lily Spicer, Tash Law and Molly Stacey stood out in an all-too-relatable sketch about three girls pretending to have a wild freshers week whilst wishing they were at Bristol uni. This was followed up by Joel James’ hilarious, dark and deadpan spin on a game of never-have-I-ever. Well-executed Pitt Club accents and shocking Scottish ones brought further laughs in the latter half of the production, with a special mention deserving for Rhys Locke. It is during these moments where skits are allowed to flourish to a full punchline, that the show is at its best.
Nonetheless, these glimpses of promise are often cut short by the ultimate agenda of Price’s ego trip; the bulk of the play rests on the fact that it is self-aware, which is a gimmicky ‘get out of jail free card’ allowing it to be as painfully awkward, disjointed and unentertaining as it wants.
By the time the production drew to a dissatisfying close, I couldn’t help but feel sorry, not only for those who weren’t first-year Corpus students directly intwined in the friendship groups of the cast, but also for anyone who had paid five pounds for their ticket. It makes me feel slightly sad that Price intended this kind of audience reaction, and indeed, will relish this kind of review. In fact, it’ll probably be quoted on Facebook.
Overall, it would have been nice to see less meta-theatre and more well-rounded sketches from ‘Grade Expectations’. However, you may be in for a treat if, to you, good theatre means a first-year in sunglasses and a beanie screaming into a baffled audience, a half-naked man being dragged across the stage on a leash, a chicken carcass being torn to shreds, and three humans and a pig having sex backstage.
I certainly hope the Master and his wife enjoy it.