An uproarious comedy about a loutish bet gone horribly right, Lads is a tautly-written, beautifully-acted, enormously funny piece of theatre, providing an excellent showcase for newcomer playwright Mallika Sood.
The plot concerns Leo (Shrai Popat) and Seb (Will Stevens), two young men in a happy, stable relationship, but after a few drinks and an encounter with a young woman named Hannah (Joanna Connolly), they place a bet to see which of them can most effectively ‘play it straight’ and get a date with a woman. From there… well, suffice it to say that, for Leo, things go a bit too well, and all hell breaks loose.
The first thing one notices about Lads is the quality of the dialogue- Sood barely lets a minute go past without at least one great one-liner of lovely character moment- as Leo puts it, this is sixty minutes of “top quality chat”. The laughs flow freely- this is easiest the funniest play the BT has seen all term- and Sood deserves praise for a script which is clever, but never ostentatious. Lads is all the more impressive for the fact that it doesn’t try to impress you. It just gets on with being entertaining, and it absolutely sings.
Of course, a good cast helps, and Lads has been lucky enough to land a great one. Stevens is impeccable as funny-man Seb, and while he occasionally struggles in the more serious moments, there is barely a line he doesn’t manage to get a laugh out of. Connolly is stuck with a less funny character than the two leading men, but she sparkles with the weightier dramatic scenes towards the end. But the real star is Shrai Popat as Leo. Leo bears a superficial similarity to the character Popat played in Potosi a couple of weeks ago, but this is a far more challenging role, and he handles it masterfully. He makes an excellent straight man to Stevens’ clowning, and does a phenomenal job with the heavier stuff. He essentially has to carry the emotional weight of the entire play, and he makes it look effortless.
There are one or two fumbles- this is still student theatre, after all. The handling of the play’s sole moment of slapstick isn’t fantastic, with Connolly and Popat coming across as far too wooden and forced, and Sood’s occasional nods to the audience seem a bit perfunctory. But on the whole this is a lively and engaging play, which demonstrates the very best young talent Oxford has to offer. This is what the OUDS New Writing Festival is for.
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