George Ellis revels in the farce of LTC’s Fresher-only production.

I left Hatfield’s Birley Room on Sunday afternoon, having just watched the opening performance of the LTC Freshers’ play Black Comedy, suffering from a profound bout of cognitive dissonance. I’d just witnessed an inconsistently acted, jerkily paced maelstrom, but was grinning all the way home.

There are a few possible explanations for this. First, I generally like farce – there’s something about watching lives descend into chaos that tickles my inner nihilist. If I were asked to sum up the production in one word, it would be ‘chaotic’, but not merely in regard to the play’s narrative; several unplanned incidents, included a smashed glass, a dousing of several audience members with water and the mock sculpture/sword fight almost taking my front row neighbour’s eye out, gave the pervasive sense that everything was on the cusp of falling apart, which proved bizarrely effective. Making your audience feel in danger is a rather high-risk strategy, and indeed I’m not sure something Director George Chilvers intended, but on this occasion it worked for me. Secondly (and more importantly), I’ve got an awful lot of time for enthusiasm. Watching every single actor on stage giving their all, especially at the points when the jokes fell flat and the blocking was clumsy, really was heart-warming. If Chilvers’ direction occasionally fell down in a technical regard, it was more than redeemed by the spirit he has clearly fostered in his cast: for a Freshers’ play, in my opinion, this is of paramount importance.

As mentioned, the quality of acting was inconsistent, which is certainly not to say it was bad. Whilst the entire cast must be commended for maintaining fantastic energy throughout, I will single out Maddie Lock’s portrayal of the elderly Miss Furnival as the epitome of such commitment. Her facial expressions and physicality were convincing, and it really was a delight to watch her descent into drunkenness. Tom Duckworth’s Brindsley, who self-identifies as a “complete physical coward”, was very amusing in his caddishness, however I would advise him (as I would Griffin Shelton, who played Colonel Melkett) that in a compact venue such as the Birley Room it is not required to shout quite as frequently or loudly. At some points it was effective – Shelton in particular has a very strong grasp of physical comedy, and the combination of him falling from a wheelie-chair and screaming in Basil Fawlty-esque indignation was superb. It runs the risk of being overdone, however. Chilvers is adept at exploiting the obvious comic high-points, but the play isn’t (in my humble opinion) well-written enough to be a non-stop laugh-fest, so I would advise to let some of the weaker jokes merely occur rather than become features. A good example of where such moderation was exercised was in Dom Cornfield’s portrayal of Schuppanzigh. He wasn’t on stage for long, but brought with him a welcome change of tone from the general freneticism. He also managed to make the inconsequential remark “I leave the light of art for the dark of science” genuinely hilarious, which is certainly worthy of praise. I enjoyed the dramatic contrast between Felicity Challinor’s understated Carol and Henrie Allen’s nightmarish Clea – the latter in particular captured the unforgiving rage of the psychotic ex-girlfriend with aplomb. Ben Taylor’s portrayal of Harold too imparted a camp light-heartedness to the whole affair.

Alongside the generally strong performances of the cast, the passion of Chilvers and his ensemble came across in the little details. Whether it was Challinor’s look of erroneous satisfaction as she unknowingly poured a drink over an inverted glass, Henry Biggs’ clever use of reversed lighting to convey shifting levels of visibility, or Iona Biggart’s insight into toffish fashion (right down to Duckworth’s gaudy Hermes belt), there was the sense that a great deal of thought had gone into both the emotional and aesthetic aspects of the production. The pacing, as aforementioned, was jerky; however, this can easily be remedied through a general toning down, not of the energy, but of the unjustifiably exaggerated comic moments. My advice to the prospective viewer is this – don’t expect high art, merely allow yourself to revel gleefully in an hour or so of lunacy. My opinion in short? LTC’s Black Comedy is an unpolished but endearingly passionate chaos, and, being a stickler for technical perfection, something which I really shouldn’t have enjoyed as much as I did. I heartily encourage you to go along to Hatfield tonight for the final performance.

 

Black Comedy is playing on the 19th February at 7:30pm in the Birley Room, Hatfield College.