Review: Brilliant Adventures

Image credit: Evelina Gumileva

When it comes to blending everyday interactions with the truly unsettling, it is easy to see why Alistair McDowall is a popular choice of playwright. After Pomona last term, this fusion of experimental science-fiction and naturalism is well-suited to the Corpus stage and is convincingly brought to life in this production. The play follows the story of 19-year-old Luke, a girl who has accidentally built a time machine in her living room, and the various people whose lives have come to revolve around her, including her brother Rob. Rob’s drug dealing tendencies invite trouble and it is through the arrival of a rich stranger that the central theme of escapism is explored, as she attempts to buy the people around her.

Set in a council flat in Middlesbrough, the space felt balanced and lived in, which would prove important to the style of the production as a whole. There was a charm to the shabbiness of the room – sparse, but well thought-out, with wonderful attention to detail – and the wallpapering of the walls was a particularly appropriate touch. A sofa in the centre of the stage provided a consistent focal point for the action of the play, although I personally would have liked to see it used slightly more creatively. This was especially since, given the seating arrangement of the Playroom auditorium, my seat on the third row didn’t raise me quite high enough to afford a clear view of the bulk of the conversations taking place at that level - something which was effectively remedied in the few moments the actors perched on the back or the arm of the sofa instead.

In a term where the Corpus Playroom is the main venue for theatre, it would have been nice to see the more abstract and bizarre elements of McDowall’s writing brought out through the staging and less limited by the extreme naturalism of the set; the proximity of its programming to last term’s Pomona cannot but invite some comparison – which is perhaps misplaced given the difference in writing styles but is nonetheless inevitable. There was something lacking in the aesthetic of the piece, a grit present in the writing that was not quite communicated fully by the staging and resulted in what should have been some moments of intense drama coming across as slightly mellowed.

Aaron Kilercioglu’s decision to cast two female actors in the roles of male characters is carried through so effectively that it is difficult to imagine these roles played any other way. Laura Pujos commands authority as Ben from the moment she appears, establishing her power as an older outsider in relation to the rest of the group; rather than relying on physical intimidation, she is calm and eloquent in her delivery, a portrayal which is undoubtedly more unsettling and elevates her character above the rest of the cast. Anna Wright is wonderfully vulnerable as Luke, the 19-year-old genius, and her relationship with Benedict Clarke’s Rob feels comfortable and familiar.

Clarke’s character was, for me, the most fascinating, as he developed from what I initially took to be an older brother effectively bullying and emotionally abusing his younger sister into a far more complex and redeemable role, a character progression which was well played out and controlled. The fight-choreography teased at over social media did not disappoint, and whilst there was an element of satisfaction in seeing Pujos’ character finally manifest her mental aggression physically, it would have been nice to see perhaps more commitment to this, particularly when taking on a character so physically overbearing as Clarke; their final fight scene lacked some drive on the opening night, leaving a slightly deflated and confusing end to the play. 

Jonathan Iceton’s character was perhaps the most truly bizarre element of the play; despite the mystery and potential confusion surrounding him for the first half, Iceton navigates the obvious difficulties of his character with skill and ease, delivering a compelling monologue which serves its purpose. Whilst the monologue itself was a nice touch, and undoubtedly necessary, I could not help but feel that something more could have been made of it, rather than relying on a series of projections to create the desired nostalgia of the episode.

Jess Murdoch’s appearance in the second half also brought much-needed physical authority to the character of Luke, still vulnerable but more assured and with more purpose to her movement despite barely saying anything for the first five minutes on stage. The same can be said for Comrie Saville-Ferguson and his portrayal of Greg which, particularly in the beginning, injected energy into what could have otherwise been a slow start; his character’s transformation from a source of positive vitality to succumbing to his own desire for escape was effective in highlighting the desperation of his situation.

Brilliant Adventures is the product of a team of very obviously talented individuals, who have come together to create a piece of theatre which is, although perhaps not life-changing, certainly enjoyable and engaging.

7/10

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