Photograph of Josie reaching out to touch Young Pip's face.

Best of Five review: a lesson on the importance of introspection

Exploring the trials and tribulations of the pursuit of love and acceptance, Pigeon Wing Productions’ Best of Five succeeded in capturing the complexity of the youthful search for identity. In its run at the Keble O’Reilly Theatre from the 14th – 17th February, this original play written by James Morrell and directed by Grace Gordon certainly had the audience in laughter, tears, and poignant introspection.

Best of Five tells the story of Pip (Kilian King), a rather awkward yet endearing young adult who finds himself longing for romantic connection whilst at university, yet too caught up in his past to engage in an authentic relationship. Pip communicates with his younger self (Edgar Viola) about his past loves (this being Josie, who is played by Rebecca Harper), yet he appears to have grown more lonely and uncertain and is unable to pass on any wisdom to young Pip.

The depth of emotion is at the centre stage of Best of Five – it was easy to feel immense sympathy for Pip, who seemed to long for the same connection that he lost with Josie as he progressed into adulthood. Pip’s main romantic interests in the play are Dylan (Alex Evers) (though this never proved to be explicitly romantic) and Oscar (Wally McCabe), who is arguably the most important figure in his love life. 

Oscar, a rather quiet yet alluring bartender who has his eye on Pip, seems to be the closest Pip has to the  mutual connection that he so longs for in the play. Owing to opening night technical difficulties, there was an unintentionally amusing moment: while Pip and Oscar were having an intimate moment, the bed they were sitting on collapsed. This actually fit very well, and elicited much laughter from the audience.

The set (designed by Hannah Wei) was relatively simple yet effective – the photos hanging from the ceiling highlighted that this is a story about friendship and relationships even before the play began. This also added a sense of intimacy that made the play feel like an insight into the most personal experiences of Pip’s life. Various scenes featured a bench to the right of the stage, where deep conversations between characters took place – the audience grew to associate the appearance of the bench with debriefs on Pip’s romantic encounters and struggles. 

In a similar vein, the scene with Pip and Pip’s younger self where the stage was framed by just two chairs allowed the audience to focus on the depth of emotion that drives the actions of both personas. As both Pips engaged in rather dramatic monologues about their own loves and passions, their attitudes were juxtaposed. The spotlight followed whoever was talking and further drew the audience’s attention to the difference in their perceptions. Best of Five shows the loss of hope that we experience as adulthood looms dramatically over the optimism of youth, revealing pressures that did not previously exist. 

The costume design (by May Liu Cannon and Lexie Pert) worked very well in showcasing the personalities of characters. Pip’s colourful wardrobe fit his awkward character well, with vibrant vests and cords dominating his outfits. This contrasted the bartender uniform of Oscar, who dressed in all black, perhaps demonstrating his closed-off persona and feeding into the trope of ‘opposites attract’. 

It would have been interesting to learn more about the other characters in the play – there seemed to be a vast number of smaller characters that were merely introduced, which may have been somewhat confusing. These characters seem to be there just for Pip to share his own problems, of which there were a lot, and there was little effort on his part to delve into the lives of those around him. Although this may fit his character well, it proved to be a little unsatisfying for the audience, who saw only one side of Pip’s world.

All in all, Best of Five was commendable in how it captured the complexities of navigating love as an awkward young adult and the reconciliation with one’s younger self being an important step in moving forward. King stood out in making the endearing and awkward character of Pip so likeable, while Viola managed to capture the roots of this awkwardness – Best of Five certainly offers an important lesson in introspection – the ending emphasized the lengths one must go to establish healthy relationships.

Image Credit: Niamh Jones