In the aisle of Jesus College chapel a few chairs, paintings, table and wine bottles invoke domesticity, setting the scene for Amy’s View by David Hare, this year’s Jesus College production. For a play in which the forces between theatre, television and reality are constantly negotiated it may not be surprising that the set is strikingly different to what most theatre-goers are used to, bringing the stage just a bit closer to the lived experience of the audience. It was also the first element of the show that producer Calvados Che was keen to draw my attention to, highlighting the novelty of a transparent backstage (set at the front of the chapel) in which the behind-the-scenes of the show are unashamedly left to view. This was, I was told, to fit in with director Victoria Liu’s vision of an ‘imagined theatre’ within the chapel space. Needless to say, I was intrigued to see how the plot would unfold in this unconventional space.
the set is strikingly different to what most theatre-goers are used to, bringing the stage just a bit closer to the lived experience of the audience
At its core, Amy’s View is about familial relationships, however, and I often forgot about theatricality altogether as I sat watching the dress rehearsal. Amy (Jay Daniels) is a confidently reserved woman, navigating the tensions within her relationships with her aging theatre actress of a mother Esme (Alix Middleditch) and the cinematically ambitious Dominic (Roman Marshall). Exploring the age of the decline of theatre and rise of television, these two seem diametrically opposed, but both occupy pivotal positions in Amy’s life. Despite stresses on the potential clash of different forms of media, the play does not forget the crucial role of family; through pregnancy, marriage and economic hardship Amy is compelled to come to terms with the bittersweet nature of familial ties, finding her own agency within all of this. There is constant tension, but also a wonderful affection running underscoring the entirety of the production, drawing out the pangs of nostalgia and the shaping of future hopes.
I was deeply impressed by the subtle yet powerful acting throughout the performance, and in particular, with the way that the balance of power between Amy and Esme was intricately explored and developed with nuance. Their roles are complementary, as Amy struggles but increasingly develops a voice confident in her choices, while Esme must cope with a voice habituated to occupying centre stage becoming enfeebled. The way the two cope with internal and external strains on their relationship is raw and honest, delineating a clear progression through time. Moreover, it was refreshing to see a central female figure whose strength is found through her quiet resilience, indicating that an interesting, strong female protagonist can also be reserved and not entirely self-sufficient. Instead, the play allows for mistakes and growth, brought out beautifully by Daniels’ commitment to the role. On a more technical note, the subtlety of the production meant that the actors’ voices were sometimes inaudible in the grand chapel, but hopefully this is an issue that can easily be addressed before the show begins its run.
it was refreshing to see a central female figure whose strength is found through her quiet resilience
Melancholy overtones guide the production, but this isn’t a bad thing: expect to see a show with emotion at the core, and you will not be disappointed. Admittedly, it is not a play that I would have automatically associated with the setting, but Jesus College chapel of course marks it as a distinctly college play. Given what the rehearsal hinted is to come, Amy’s View is looking very likely to do its college great credit.