New student writing blends the familiar with the unexpected to great success in Alice Tyrrell’s Spring Robin.
The setting of a university accommodation corridor is strongly familiar: identical wooden doors and blank walls that shake slightly when people bump into them (although that may just be the Corpus Playroom’s set) – combining to produce an effect that neither quite comforts nor alienates. Much like a university corridor, Spring Robin offers us neither solace nor gloom; it simply takes us through a term of university life, with its highs and lows along the way.
Alice Tyrrell’s fantastic writing shines through in this play. By only providing us with what the corridor sees, and jumping forward by days at a time in between each scene, they strip the play of an overarching plot, yet give us enough details of the characters’ lives (without making it feel like forced exposition) that we find ourselves completely invested in them by the time the play ends.
In a play with so little action, the focus is entirely on the characters, and the cast take on this challenge with success. I have to admit, I was initially unimpressed by the play’s opening dialogue between the eponymous Robin (Lois Wright) and Sam (Sara Hazemi) – I thought it felt a little stilted and unnatural.
But it suddenly clicked into jarring familiarity: Hazemi and Wright were perfectly portraying the awkward, slightly out-of-sync feeling when meeting university friends after a long holiday at home. Hazemi and Wright’s chemistry continued to be a highlight throughout the play, as a combination of Hazemi’s physical affection and Wright’s insecurity left the audience unsure of just what their relationship was, and desperate to find out.
Of course, Fintan Quinn’s performance as Jamie also deserves a mention. He projects an aura of friendliness throughout the play, even when his character is feeling upset and neglected, creating a character who, despite being less willing to sacrifice his various commitments for his friends, is at the end of the day the steady rock among Sam and Robin’s chaos and turmoil.
Perhaps the standout feature of this play is that, through a balance of Tyrrell’s writing and the cast’s performance, small, delicate changes in the dynamics of a friendship are brought sharply into focus. The cast are able to instantly switch the mood from relaxed to awkward to show a lack of communication or the characters’ unspoken anger at each other. Wright, in particular, gives a heart-wrenching and subtle performance through small changes of expression to portray their character’s insecurity about whether their friendships will ever be the same again.
The final words, ‘happy spring, Robin!’, seem upbeat, but contain a sharp pang that the future is on its way, and the events of the term and the damage it has wreaked on their friendships cannot be reversed. It is an unsatisfying ending – but then again, university terms rarely end in a satisfying manner. The play’s faithfulness to real life remains intact.