Review: Try! Try! And other plays

Connie Fisher 21 November 2012

Try! Try! And other plays

Corpus Playroom, Mon 19 Nov, 9.30pm

Despite getting the sneaking feeling that my companion and I were insufficiently arty to be able to fully appreciate Frank O’Hara’s little-known dramatic collection, I found myself chuckling along with the New York poet’s parcels of refreshingly-comic modern pessimism (although I wasn’t guffawing quite as loud as the fellow next to me).

This was the first time this set of short plays, written in the fifties and sixties, had ever been performed in the UK, and I can’t help but feel it suited the setting of the playrooms down to a tee. A performance and production team of just three, Matilda Wnek, Dominic Biddle and Jack Parlett, brought the snippets to life for just two chuckle-filled performances on Tuesday night.

The first, and longest, of the plays, Try! Try! seemed to be a couple’s version of Waiting for Godot, except Godot returned, war-beaten, sex-obsessed and spouting ridiculous similes, and then the couple realised they weren’t waiting for anyone at all. I couldn’t help but get a little sentimental when Violet (Wnek) ran to her lover, John (Parlett) upon the arrival of her husband, Jack (Biddle), and threw out a timid ‘I love you’ as he defended her, despite them having spent the first five minutes of the play bluntly telling each other how much they disliked being together. The play masterfully managed the familiar modernist state of alienation while being packed with (un-sinister) humour in nearly every line; a kind of state of the modern mindset for optimists.

The following pieces were considerably shorter, but followed a similar vibe. Love on the Hoof saw the two male actors on the telephone (which actually said ‘Ring, ring…ring, ring’ when it rung), disentangling themselves from girls they had met on a drunken night before. As they each jammed their phones back onto the hooks, the men turned to each other, beat their thighs and then rugby tackled each other to the ground. As the lights fell on them rolling around on the floor, all I could think was ‘Waayyyy, LADS’, although I admit this was probably a little reductive.

My companion’s favourites was the tiny Presents for Joe, which featured the three trying to work out what they could buy Grace’s (Wnek’s) boyfriend, Joe, presumably for his birthday. As she ran out, and then back in crying ‘sob, sob’, Wnek’s purposefully-detached acting neatly suited the poetry. Change your Bedding left us both a little bewildered, as the three sat wearing carnival masques as a family trying to articulate their intertwining relationships; I did, however, really appreciate Parlett’s Yorkshire-accented old woman.

The final play was a highlight for me, and not just because of the fluffy cardboard clouds the cast hung up before the performance. Composed on a plane over the Atlantic, the piece saw Wnek and Parlett uttering a plethora of fragmentary thoughts and phrases as they ripped pages out of their notebooks, accompanied throughout by Biddle’s pinging ukulele, and occasional singing. Each fragment I felt deserved picking apart as they flew past us: ‘Now I’m up in the air with you, how do I get down?’

As we were all offered free wine at every opportunity, and the cast introduced each piece with a little background information, the atmosphere of informality cast the emphasis of the evening fully onto these little pieces of O’Hara’s vivid linguistic genius. Although I’m now off to find the playscript to make a bit more sense of it all, I can say for certain that the three really did the works justice: if it hadn’t been for one night only, I’d be heading back to see them again tonight.

Connie Fisher