As I stumbled into the dimly-lit Burton-Taylor studio to see the last entry into the OUDS new writing festival, Florence Read’s Twin Primes, I was greeted by ‘Uptown Funk’ blaring at full volume- as I staggered to a seat, Bruno Mars boldly proclaimed “Don’t believe me, just watch!” I took this as a sign, and I was proven right; I did watch, and I didn’t believe a thing.
This was, of course, the point. A Brechtian sketch show about life, death, masculinity and the fundamental absurdity of the modern world, Twin Primes is very much a play that wants you to remember it’s a play; it’s composed of eleven sketches, apparently presented in random order, with the actors reading titles aloud off pieces of paper cellotaped to the wall, visibly changing costumes between scenes, and adopting a variety of different accents, speech patterns and mannerisms. How very postmodern. Or is it post-postmodern? Either way, it’s all good fun, putting one in mind of The League of Gentlemen if it had a bit more self-awareness and was willing to go just that little bit further in terms of the disturbing.
The actors are what really make it; Ogemdi Ude and Sammy Glover are both charismatic and talented performers, and are remarkably comfortable with the play’s transitions between the comical and the grotesque, the sublime and the ridiculous. Fittingly enough, given the material, both of them are channelling Mark Gatiss; specifically his ability to convincingly adopt a number of disparate styles and characteristics, and yet project a sense of underlying personality. They are on particularly fine form in the more comedic sketches; Glover shines as a cringe-inducing interviewer, while Ude does an excellent job playing a comically deluded lottery player, and they both shine as a pair of cynical and two-faced newsreaders, calmly reading gruesome stories about soaring quality of life and poet laureates being beheaded – how very Robert Shearman. This is challenging material and Ude and Glover handle it with immense skill.
If the play has problems, it’s because it is sometimes in danger of letting its own cleverness run away with it. There’s one sketch which is the theatrical equivalent of the short tracks on Let It Be, doing little more than draw attention to the fact that the sketches are being read from cue cards, without having much of an observation or insight to liven things up. Also, while the order of the sketches on the first night seemed impeccably-judged, the apparently-improvised nature of the sketch order may negatively impact future performances; as it was, the play was in real danger of letting the pace drop as Ude and Glover lengthily faffed about changing costumes and moving props around.
Ultimately, though, what matters is that Twin Primes is immensely clever, even if its tendency to show off can trip it up occasionally. A hugely entertaining play.
IMAGE/New writing festival