You Kafka see it: Bad Faith at BT

Entertainment

 oxford student picture

Low, blue lights illumine a simple set. One teenager is sprawled across a bed, another draped across a wooden chair; a third sits hunched, reading what looks suspiciously like a Bible. He’s mouthing to himself as the audience filters in, and the effect is good. We’re a part of this grouping. There are clothes on the floor, trainers too, it’s generic – the room could be any student’s in any college, any university. And that sort of feels like the point. Bad Faith is supposed to be something we can all understand.

As it turns out, Matilda Curtis’s script has us laughing within minutes. Not because it’s packed with brilliant one-liners, although there are several, but because it sounds so unnervingly like normal conversation. Each character is highly distinctive, but somehow that doesn’t make it difficult to empathise. Their situations are ones with which we’re all familiar: think of that moment when you tell someone to choose the music, and they put on something weird and horrible and you have to pretend to like it; think of those extended metaphors (about kebabs and porn stars, in this case) that you develop until they’re ridiculous… it’s just those tiny idiosyncrasies that make our everyday relationships distinctive. The effect of focussing on these, as opposed to some great turmoil or event, is rather charming.

Whilst most of the seven characters get equal time on stage, Kate Strange and Helen Reid deserve individual mention (as Nicky and Mae respectively). The former gives a stirring portrayal of trauma without overstatement or exaggeration, and the latter is just a joy to watch: her sarcastic manner is hilarious. Felix (Alex Dickinson) and Gabi (Alice Sandelson) are also immensely endearing and likeable. The cast as a whole is strong, each character well-developed.

The highlight of this brief play is indubitably its penultimate scene, which I think takes place at a bop (‘I am a geisha!’ ‘How are you a geisha?!’ ‘I’m wearing a dressing gown!’) and provides the setting for some of the characters’ most poignant moments. Poignant as they’re explicitly emotional, sure, but also as they are so brutally relatable – because sometimes, yes, your deepest emotional insights do come whilst hammered and clad in a tiger onesie. There’s no false grandeur here, and it’s liberating.

Scripts about university students having existential crises are hardly something to jump up and down over, but Bad Faith is different. The scenes are so short, so transient, that we simply don’t have time to follow protagonists along their deep spiritual journeys or emotional developments. We do get some complex insights into their lives, but the play has a realism that stops it from taking itself too seriously. Felix, for example, describes another character’s dramatic conversion to Christianity: ‘I think John found enlightenment over the summer. Either that or weed…’ The juxtaposition between profound and trivial seems, hackneyed though the phrase is, rather poetic.

If you’re in search of the heights of passion and elation, or the depths of rage and despair, I’d give this a miss. If, however, you want a genuinely captivating portrayal of student life, by turns tender and crushing, then don’t deceive yourself: Bad Faith is one to bet on.
**** 4 STARS

PHOTO/ Chelsea White