Theatre Review: Plank

Martha Henriques 31 October 2011


The New Arcadians

Corpus Playroom – 9.30pm – Until Sat 29th October 2011


A new, abstract, student-written comedy that revels alternately in clamour and awkward silences does not tend to appeal as a promising evening of entertainment. Happily, Plank pulled off a difficult feat in its depiction of middle-class vacuities with confidence and style.

A simple set complemented the complex web of dialogue that managed to stay comfortably clear of pretentious Cambridge tendencies and instead remain cutting and effective. The cast’s timing was smooth for the vast majority of the performance, lending a seamless energy that let their witty lines pierce through all the more naturally.

The hubbub of the many-way, independent yet connected conversations was impressive not only in its humour but also in that, despite the showering of one-liners and even plenty of ‘one-word-ers’, it showcased some touching insights into the cloistered lives of its gently caricatured subjects. The cast made excellent use of their jumbled conversations to develop their own characters; the fantastically neurotic, Cath Kidston-toting middle-aged North London type was hilariously portrayed by Lucy Farrett, while a pair of endearingly vacant old men played by Oliver Marsh and Stephen Bermingham was another treat to watch. The skill of the director, Ami Jones, showed in the coherent balance of the whole cast talking almost simultaneously without descending into chaos.

Where the mundanities of coffee culture and sheltered urban lifestyles were ticklingly ridiculed, the more momentous events in the story did not flow with quite the same ease. The awkwardness in the more serious moments of the play were not quite as delicious as the earlier parts promised. Likewise, a slightly chilly ending came just a little too quickly for comfort after the warmth and pace of the rest of the show. The purposefully abrupt black out seemed to leave the audience somewhat taken aback. However, at just forty minutes long it’s perhaps understandable that there was little time for a more cohesive ending.

Plank is by all means a challenging comedy to work, but The New Arcadians succeeded in pulling it off with style. Despite eliciting few belly-laughs from the audience, there was a healthy chuckling throughout the performance; more importantly the jibes had the precious quality of following you out of the theatre and into the pub, where conversations peppered with middle class affectations turned into a surreal continuation of the joke. Satisfying as this was, it might be difficult to see how Plank would appeal to any but a very middle class audience. On the other hand, as a Cambridge student production – dare I say it? – it’s unlikely to be faced with an audience of any other kind.

Martha Henriques