As we waited for Thark to start (it took only a few minutes longer than expected), regaled by smooth jazz played by Remy Oudemans and Sam Adamson, I dropped some great eaves (“One of my dreams, actually, is to take circus lessons”) and became preoccupied with trying to work out if someone sitting across from me was a part of the play or not. Thankfully, he eventually produced a phone, but with his mustard waistcoat, tie and dub-monks he looked almost better put together than the actual Sir Hector Benbow (one of the play’s protagonists), sat behind him in a leather armchair. I think this small incident is perhaps telling of my problem with Thark, which was ultimately efficient and delivered some solid laughs, but didn’t really provide anything that dissimilar from Oxford in general: posh people getting into scrapes in old buildings.
This new production of Ben Travers’ farce, directed by Jack Bradfield, is Clive Francis’ adaption which cuts a character from the play completely, shortening it. Had the actors been a little tighter, perhaps it wouldn’t have still felt quite long. The plot relies on the comedic forces of romantic mishaps and the possibility of ghosts; the two come to influence each other considerably. The small acting space, with its five narrow passageways, allowed for sparse sets which were nimbly shifted, and it worked to have the audience close to the actors – it amplified the characters’ personalities, especially that of “Jones,” the butler.
There were several enjoyable elements: Seamus Lavan had great mastery over both expression and voice as the put-upon manservant Hook who has clearly Seen Some Things; Maddie Pollard’s Cherry Buck was similarly in control of herself, and Georgie Murphy as Mrs. Frush, though understated, was actually one of the stronger performances, with her angry, quizzical mole-ish look. George Fforde, as “Jones,” commanded a terrifying face, a distressing hiss and equally distressing huge shirt cuffs; Barney Shekleton’s Ronald had an animated, wide-eyed intensity, and Ryan Lea was also excellent as the lonely, ingratiating Lionel Frush, slightly reminiscent of Austen’s Mr. Collins.
I won’t recount all the jokes that made me laugh (there were lots!), but trust that I did indeed laugh as I mention the things which left me less enthusiastic. Adam Cameron Diaper (whose Sir Hector was not unlike Made in Chelsea’s Spencer Matthews) delivered many of his lines with frenetic energy, but also an intonation which could have done with more variation, for the sake of the gags. The timing of a few actors, in fact, could be enhanced, and some movement made less self-conscious, especially when characters touch each other – such is often the problem with student drama. I was left wondering whether if the characters had been more venomous, I’d have enjoyed it more, or if I was just a trash, hipster postmodernism-devotee. I think the latter is far more likely, and the cast and crew of Thark should be proud of themselves; they have a good production which will likely get even better.
Thark is at the Michael Pilch Studio until the 6th of February, 19:30, £5/7.
Image // Alice Thompson