“Stellar performances, powerful punchlines, and [a] noble cause…

“If we were all actors upon a stage, we could all do with a bit more rehearsal time.”

‘Folly Of Man ‘– a student-written piece by Lawrence Gartshore, from Grey College’s Phoenix Theatre and co-directed by Lex Irish and Ben Braje – personifies the line above as three men grapple with the perils of love, despair, isolation, embracing their sexuality and eventual liberation. It is quite fitting that this performance was showcased in the month of ‘Movember’ and highlights different shades of masculinity through its characters and the importance of meaningful relationships between men as they brace through a war within their own minds.

The three lead characters – Augie, Bige and Jonah (played by Andrew Mullins, Lex Irish, and Anastasios Alexakis respectively) are portrayed effortlessly well by the cast. Mullins expresses his sorrows and remorse from taking difficult decisions well, and he shines in scenes of conflict with Irish and his father (played by Toby Harrison). He expresses a shade of innocence in every line delivered, which helps the audience to resonate with his feelings. Irish showcases his acting ability as one of the best characters in the play – a man who initially comes off as spoilt and entitled, but shoulders immense trauma from his past. He modulates his voice extremely well, and the audience can sense his pain riddled in his dialogues of despair. There is one scene where he schemes a cunning plot along with Augie which is also acted very well. But it is Alexakis who takes the cake in this piece as an eccentric yet troubled priest who is struggling to accept his true identity. His line delivery is punchy, and he stands out in scenes filled with humour as well as conflict. The sermon scene comes to mind as one of the stand-out performances in the entire act, where he truly displays his abilities as an actor.

Lucy, Ted and Viola (played by Olivia Clouting, Ben Braje and Alexa Thanni respectively) play their parts well. They are relatable and support the lead characters throughout the screenplay. One emotional scene between Clouting and Irish really stood out, where the acting range of the cast was clearly visible. Toby Harrison plays the temperamental father with ease; he displays his angst on Augie with such conviction that beings fears in the hearts of the audience. Isobel Waller also portrays her character well as Augie’s brother, especially in scenes of guilt over Augie’s issues with his father, even if a handful of scenes could have been more expressive. Better sound design could have helped amplify certain scenes even more.

There is another (hidden) lead character in the play – Kit (played by Flynn Harris Brannigan). Without going into too much detail so as to not spoil any theatrics, Brannigan is charismatic and engaging as a narrator who draws the attention of the audience with such panache that it’s such great fun to see him on stage. He is charming, witty, and self-aware, and his shifts from narrator to character are wonderfully done. His scenes of exposition help in understanding the characters better through his own lens.

A performance dealing with such tough topics demands strong dialogues, and Folly of Man is filled with thought-provoking lines. Every lead character has a monologue expressing the agony they face while dealing with their own demons, and the cast showcases their best acting talent in these scenes. There is an ample amount of strong emotion displayed in the performances and the genuine passion to discuss mental health is also evident.

While a longer runtime is necessary to flesh out the characters better, the play could have benefitted from a tad crisper edit and fewer intervals. The moving around of the set pieces by the cast in between scenes did feel distracting, but it’s understandable given the small cast and crew. There were also some scenes in the play where the character exits could have been more natural and organic. That said, it was a good decision to break the fourth wall, using the aisles and audience seats as an ingenious way to make up for the small stage space.

But these nit-picks do not take away from the stellar performances, powerful punchlines, and noble cause of Folly Of Man, both in its charitable efforts and as an initiative to use theatre to talk about mental health. Here’s to hoping for even more successful plays from this cast and crew going forward!

By Akash Sivakumar

Folly of Man will continue to be performed at Fountain’s Hall, Grey College, DH1 3LG at 19:00 on Thursday the 30th November and Friday the 1st December

Photo Credits: Phoenix Theatre