Review: Unsoiled

Melody Lewis 2 March 2022
Image Credit: Corpus Playroom, Coco Wheeler

When I heard that a play with a cast of over twenty people was going to be staged at the Corpus Playroom, I couldn’t quite believe it. Such a big cast for a theatre as small and intimate as the Corpus Playroom seemed to me like a disaster waiting to happen, yet what could have easily resulted in a chaotic, cramped stage with actors bumping into each other as they made their entrances and exits in fact turned out to be one of the best pieces of theatre I have ever seen performed in Cambridge.

Unsoiled is a piece of new writing from the fantastically talented Ewan Martin-Kane which tells the story of the people of Briggsley village, a pastoral farming community, who one day to their dismay find that the soil they have ploughed for generations has become impenetrable. As the narrative unfolds we follow farmers Branwen and Pete, and their companions, soothsayer Nina and the ever-attentive Orla, as they embark on the brave quest to find fresh soil, venturing out of the safety of their idyllic community in order to save their loved ones from famine. The journey is not easy and on the way they encounter death, hunger, and the wily ways of tricksters and scammers, such as the dastardly Whilom, played with confidence and ease by the brilliant Oscar Matthews. Yet, they develop a fondness for one another which keeps them propelling forwards in their quest

Unsoiled is a perfect gem of a play, and praise must be given to writer Ewan Martin-Kane for his darkly comic dialogue who, along with co-director Anna-Maria Woodrow, brought this intriguing story to life. Martin-Kane flawlessly captures the essence of the fantastical quest narrative, bringing to life some of the most amusing and well-written characters I have ever seen. Isobel Lawrence’s Man for Catastrophe artfully embodied the bumbling and confused governmental attitude towards the ‘crisis’ of the soil hardening and the pragmatic no-nonsense Sam was played convincingly by Jago Wainwright. The ensemble cast were also marvellous, with particularly memorable performances from Katy Lawrence, James Culhane, Hugo Gregg, and Martin Carter.

Standout performances came from Jake Fenton as the hapless but well-meaning Pete, and especially Jake Turner as the oafish ploughman Branwen. Turner’s delivery of Martin-Kane’s line was outstanding, coping with ease with the quick changes between the play’s more comedic lines and the rather more serious plot-driven segments. Turner demonstrated his skill by taking a character who, at first seemed rather unlikeable, and turning him into a firm audience favourite with his witty quips and impressive stage presence until we even became sympathetic towards him by the end of the play. Although all of the actors were incredible, I felt at times some of the textual depth to certain characters was slightly lacking, particularly Orla and Nina. Both characters were played fantastically, by Rebecca Davis and Maya Calcraft respectively, with gentleness and composure that is rare to find, yet I found these characters to seem slightly one-dimensional in comparison to the brilliant development and emotional depth of other figures in the play.

Attention must also be paid to the setting of the play, as the costumes (Ella Lowden-Hampshire and Emily Giles), set (Anna Piper-Thompson) and lighting design (Tungsten Tang) were impeccable. The costumes perfectly captured the bucolic fantasy feel to the play, yet at the same time were reminiscent of the dystopian City of Ember, a combination that worked fantastically and was a treat for the eyes. The Playroom will forever be one of my favourite theatre spaces in Cambridge, as its intimate and open setting makes it perfect for experimenting with transitions, lighting, and soundscapes. This experimental nature was encapsulated by my favourite scene of the play, hinting at a passage of time so subtly yet perfectly, through the use of blackouts paired with a hazy orange glow and the enchanting drone of the bard. The scene was a technical triumph in every possible way.

Unsoiled is an unmissable treasure of a play that will leave you yearning for more. The brilliant mixture of comedy, tragedy, and a little bit of adventure makes it the ideal escapist’s dream. From the story-telling to the acting, this play is the best student-written piece of theatre I have ever seen in Cambridge.

5/5 Stars

Unsoiled is on at the Corpus Playroom at 7PM from the 2nd-5th March.

Tickets can be found here for £7.50-£9: https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/play/unsoiled/