Review: Smorgasbord

Charlotte Waygood 30 October 2019

Cambridge’s new writing showcase shows no signs of slowing down.

As host Aidan Tulloch quipped, ‘Smorgasbord’, a twice-yearly production showcasing new theatrical writing in Cambridge, has turned twenty-two, which means it has now graduated university and found an unpaid internship. However, despite its advanced age, Smorgasbord’s attraction lies in the constant feeling of renewal: each piece was unique, giving us comedy, drama, and thought-provoking theatrical experiments. These were held together well by the energetic Aidan Tulloch, who, despite having a very tight schedule, kept the tone friendly and relaxed.

The first piece, ‘Seagulls’, by Katie Devey, was a set of three scenes, with characters that rambled about topics such as the state of their relationship, talking dandelions, and God.

Director Alex Watson’s choice to stage it with minimal props meant that the audience’s focus was totally engaged by the actors and the ideas being expressed. ‘Mark and Claire’ also had minimal props, presenting the internal monologues of two strangers on the bus. It ranged from Claire (Sophie Watson) wondering whether Mark (Fintan Quinn) would be up for casual sex on the bus, to discussing the effect of OCD on Claire’s life. Watson and Quinn had good chemistry, despite not talking to each other in the piece.

Next was ‘Going Off’, about Ted (Christoph Marshall) and Vivian (Benjamin Gibson), a couple whose argument about making tea with milk that has gone off led to preparations for passionate sex, only to be embarrassed when guests arrived. The piece was fast-paced and funny, even though the actors were reading off scripts.

In ‘The Last Goodbye’, Anna Trowby gave an incredibly moving portrayal of Alice, a teenager coming to terms with the fact that she was sexually abused as a child.

The subject was sensitively handled, and Trowby’s use of movement made it visually exciting. The last piece, ‘And this is where we grow from’, felt like it should also have been a monologue, as the character of ‘Father’ seemed slightly superfluous to the scene. The piece used botanical metaphors to convey the daughter’s (Izzy Dignum) views on grief.

 

What made ‘Smorgasbord’ unique was the Q&A sessions with the writers, directors and actors after each piece.

These gave more information about the pieces, such as the revelation that, for ‘Seagulls’, Devey had only given the director the words for the play, not even telling them which character said which lines. The discussion of Emily Swettenham’s first experiment with naturalistic dialogue for ‘Going Off’ was also interesting. It was a privilege to see the thoughts behind the pieces; ‘Smorgasbord’ may be getting older, but its stream of youthful ideas shows no sign of slowing down.

4 stars.