(Eds note: This review contains brief, aesthetic criticism of a representation of self-harm.)
Student theatre necessitates a degree of innovation. Tight budgets, a lack of resources and a limitation on available spaces creates a perfect breeding ground for invention. However, even when actors and directors are forced into back rooms, cafés, street corners, or Studio B, productions still contain the discernible conventions of theatre. Tuesday, the third offering in the 2014-15 SUDS Summer Season, set out to do away with these.
The Holme Building’s Cellar Theatre was set up like a typical student’s rooms, complete with a mattress, desk, and an impressively stocked bookshelf, all with a vaguely tweedy air. The only clue the audience were given that the show was about to start was the dimming of house lights, and sole performer Zach Beavon-Collin flinging himself through a door on stage.
What followed was forty minutes of Beavon-Collin existing in the space, with a large focus on the banality of our daily routines. The audience’s attention was drawn to small, surreal details: a clock whose second hand continues to move, but doesn’t progress past 7:02; two half-filled wine glasses, one of them lipstick-stained; a laptop that operates itself; falling coins; peeling posters. Hal Conyngham’s director’s note compelled us to question if any of these details were intentional, and, if they were, if they carried any meaning. We’re invited to witness a theatrical experiment: what happens when a creative team attempts to strip away every convention of theatre and reduce it to bare-bones?
The answer: we’re left with a great deal of theatrical conventions.
As an audience, we were ushered into neatly placed rows of seating, asked to turn our phones off and directed to watch the action on the stage before us, upon which an individual used movement to convey a narrative, known as ‘acting’ in some circles. Rather than demonstrating an environment where all narrative has been stripped away, Tuesday simply highlighted that there really is no theatrical environment without narrative. Props were specifically prepared to hint at a narrative. Beavon-Collin’s character had an arc, a trajectory that motivated their movements.
The presence of a narrative in a production that claimed to do away with the conventions of theatre did not irk me. Rather, the conclusion to that narrative: Beavon-Collin’s character heating a knife and cutting themself, seemed rushed and out of place. Aside from the absence of any hint that the play would contain depictions of self-harm, making it potentially unsafe for some members of the audience, it gave the impression that depression and self harm are things that happen when we’re bored, part of some strange grey area between the surreal and the banal.
I attended Tuesday on Wednesday; opening night. It’s probably important to note that the show changed considerably throughout its run. In particular, Conyngham and Beavon-Collin removed the surrealist elements of the play (coins, poster, and rogue laptop) for every other performance in the run. This receptiveness is one of its virtues, and perhaps one of the reasons Tuesday could be considered a successful experiment: its willingness to adapt to feedback. After the performance, the audience poured into the Local and spent hours discussing what they had just seen, if it worked, and theatre more broadly. Very few SUDS mountings of Shakespeare, Ibsen, or Chekhov would inspire such a strong reaction from audiences, for better or for worse.
It is probably an indictment to think that this show might have been more exciting or honest had it actually been staged in an actor’s room, with the audience sharing a glass of merlot, watching faff for the prescribed forty minutes. But the SUDS Summer Season invites innovation, invention and experimentation; and, even staged in the much-used, much-loved Cellar Theatre, Tuesday fits those criteria, blandly.