Preview: OUDS New Writing Festival

Katrina Gaffney and Megan Husain attend previews of two of the New Writing Festival Plays – The Optimists and Proper Conduct. Both plays leave the reviewers excited and hopeful for the pieces that are being performed in Oxford this week.

The Optimists

After seeing a preview of The Optimists I have very high hopes for this entry in the New Writing Festival. The premise of The Optimists, a comic farce in which a group of communists run in to all kinds of mishaps as they try to bring about a revolution, is certainly an intriguing one but whether this humour would translate on stage seemed to be a concern of the cast. However, there is no doubt that The Optimists will be a comic delight. The cast themselves appeared to be in love with the play, telling me how rehearsals often left them in hysterics; this enthusiasm for the writing is one of the elements which I think will make the play successful. All the actors I saw were excellent in their comic delivery and some of them must also be commended for their ability to maintain great Russian accents.

I saw a scene from the play and the juxtaposition of communist ideals with a modern day context provided a great source of comedy. Holding their first meeting in a coffee shop – apparently soy chai lattes are the drink of choice for communist leaders – the communists run into problems in planning the revolution. The revolution after all can’t clash with one of the member’s Pilates class. I have always admired those with the ability to write comedy; it is difficult to make people laugh, but from what I saw Suzy Cripps has done just that.

The New Writing festival is a real treat for Oxford with so many wonderful, new plays to chose from but I must say that I think The Optimists will not be one to miss. I can’t wait to see more of it. For anyone looking for some for some hilarity to combat those fifth week blues you could not do better than this.

Proper Conduct

Entering in to the rehearsal of Proper Conduct it’s clear that there is a great chemistry between the cast and a real sense of fun to their production. The performance I got to see reflected this with hilarious moments and excellently delivered comic lines from all of the actors. However, it is clear that this is not simply a jokey script – deeper themes of anxiety and death are addressed in this unusual and intriguing production.

The plot follows a group of three characters sitting together in a train carriage. As the plot develops we hear of a suicide on the train, a mute and deaf women stuck in the toilet, and a dangerous murderous train conductor. The bizarre nature of the situation ensures humour as we see the three characters becoming increasingly involved and wound up by what is happening around them. Robert is an amusing naively childish figure, Jennifer takes the role of the scathing rationalist, but it is Quentin as our eccentric hypochondriac who provides the fuel to the drama and triggers the paranoia of the others.

For the most part the writing was extremely engaging, achieving the right balance between humour and more serious moments of reflection. The only element which seemed slightly forced was the quick revelation of the characters’ personal problems– a predictable idea and a little premature and out of place within such a short piece. However, exploring the idea of the fragility of mind and questioning the extent to which you can trust your own senses is an interesting theme running throughout the play. At the end you are left unsure as to what is the truth and what has just been a figment of the characters’ overreaching imagination – uncertainty characterises the entire play, making it naturally a though-provoking piece of writing. Proper Conduct looks set to be a really engaging production, and if nothing else an extremely entertaining and amusing hour of theatre.