9.30pm, Tue 12 to Sat 16 Nov 2013, Corpus Playroom
I think you should go and see Occupied, and not because it’s the best play I’ve ever seen, or even because the production is smooth and flawless and perfect, but because Occupied is fun. There are serious messages, and a passionate attempt to unpick the hypocrisies and hysterics of student activism, and there’s a couple of sort-of love stories, and there’s satire and some pretty wonderful musical comedy, and there’s real weight given to the importance of people who mean well, but most of all, for the audience, it’s a ball. The prestigious Other Prize, often awarded to more eclectic work, is well-deserved.
Harry Buckoke’s piece casts a comedic, irreverent but ultimately affectionate eye on the many pitfalls of student occupations and the radical left – fast-paced exchanges of political correction (“privilege check” is battered by “prejudice check”) and the random sprinkling of terms like “hegemonic” and “pluralistic” are just the right side of patently ridiculous. It wears its relevance and modernity lightly – wickedly tongue-in-cheek, it never mocks student movements, but gently pokes fun at the ways in which these well-meaning folk tie themselves into political knots. The question of how to woo a liberal woman without accidentally being a misogynist is dealt with tenderly, while the ethics of eating hummus offered a more slapstick humour. And for anyone who’s had even the vaguest experience of student politics, Occupied offers some wit which is deliciously close to the bone.
Bypassing the student-writing tendency to have a well-defined central figure surrounded by generic other characters, Buckoke has written an ensemble piece with a selection of well-sketched figures, each one human and frail, but none so flawed we don’t find ourselves rooting for them. These characters are realised by an impressive cast, who across the board give very fine and committed performances. All were solidly decent, although Zoe Higgins’ betrayed former Lib Dem is worth particular mention, along with Jamie Webb, playing the vegan feminist attempting to win her heart. Webb’s ability to charm us with a character so utterly, infuriatingly, nitpickingly annoying is nigh-on miraculous.
That’s not to say there weren’t issues. The direction was, to be honest, a little patchy; lots of characters standing around or huddling together. Some of the jokes were a bit forced. A dodgy accent from Suraj Patel here and rather rushed lines from Rebecca Thomas there (apparent nerves slightly marred an otherwise really enjoyable portrayal) weren’t ideal. Like the majority of amateur writers, Buckoke has not yet conquered the hardest part of writing a play, ending it well, and Occupied peters out a little unsatisfactorily.
For plenty of student shows attempting to take themselves terribly seriously, these sorts of bumps and grazes along the way would detract problematically from the audience’s experience. But Occupied is such a delightful piece, not only does it not seem to matter that it’s flawed, but there’s something incredibly endearing about it. It was impossible not to get on the side of this cast – so energetic, so engaging, so endlessly appealing. Don’t expect perfection from this show; you’ll be disappointed. But as far as sheer enjoyment goes, it’s hard to beat. Cold and miserable this week? Make it the Playroom.