“packed full of raw and exciting new student writing”

The Mount Oswald Programme at DDF this year is undoubtedly packed full of raw and exciting new student writing – from philosophical, apocalyptic monologuing to the exploration of enthusiasm in the intriguing lives of historical figures who lived “in the world of yesterday”. Stage’s Fool by James Murray and Enzo Lebeau’s The Children of Yesterday bring engrossing material to the stage at Mount Oswald Hub, challenging the audience with tragedy and loneliness but making them laugh and smile all the while. 

The Children of Yesterday captures a turbulent time through gorgeous staging and Charlotte Beech’s fabulous tech. The spacing and levels of characters and use of set keeps the movement and pacing of the play engaging throughout, as well as work with the actors in honing in on their life’s work – be that writing or education. As the set shifts around the stories told on stage, the audience can’t help but travel with these characters as they flee danger, corruption and persecution. The flying papers across the stage towards the beginning did well to depict the chaos of Europe’s political climate at the beginning of the 20th century as well as the disruption and upheaval of censorship – making for beautiful imagery and a chilling opening. Furthermore, the projection of dates and places at the back of the stage was experimented with strikingly, and made for clearer nods to the fascinating time jumps which the play incorporates. Harris and Alhert’s composing and music choices, although at times a little cheesy, made for lovely full circle moments and tone-setting throughout. 

Despite sometimes a sense of uncertainty and stillness amongst the cast or lack of fast pace, the acting displays subtle and gentle charm. Multirole characters work inventively in this piece, intertwining with costume changes and allowing the likes of Jack Paul and Maniha Khan to convey energetic contrasts between characters. Between them, the cast create glimpses of raw emotion in the tragedy – Nathan Jarvis especially brings urgency to lots of the dialogue. At times, it did feel like actors not needed on stage, who remain at the back, could have been directed more thoroughly, similarly to how the beginning of the piece had actors freeze mid scene, cutting between dialogue. 

Stage’s Fool asks demanding feats of monologuing from Charlie Howe (him) and achieves a visceral and curious cupcake-filled exploration of loneliness, crisis, and meaning. Set in an empty theatre, the irony almost writes itself, as it feels natural to explore the bounds of the venue and its supernatural power. The use of tech in this piece is precise and considerate, playing on the mystery of the situation cheekily, as well as the reality of the theatre setting. ‘They’, played by James Murray, is a sublimely acted and clever character, who achieves the satisfying end this play deserves.

Howe is a humorous and emotive ‘He’, “breathing life into” the evening with acting that is full of anger and sadness, confusion, and nostalgia for a time before. He commands the stage with ease, with facial expressions and vocal nuances that reach to the heart of the audience. And yes, the meta jokes about receiving bad reviews certainly made this reviewer chuckle, as well as the perfectly timed song choice which completes the majesty of Murray’s writing (which is a satirical payoff worth seeing the piece for in and of itself). 

Overall, both Stage’s Fool and Children of Yesterday are inviting pieces of student writing which ask questions about being, which are relevant to now, then, and ever after. The attention to detail from dynamic writing and acting, to panning of sound effects or costume changes, allow both pieces to shine through any faults they might have. For an insightful slice of the DDF pie, the Mount Oswald programme is something not worth missing out on.