We are all well-acquainted with TV series such as Friends and How I Met Your Mother, which follow the every-day lives of friends living together. Flatmates, written by Ellen Dryden and Just As It Is, written by Alice Shearon, take a new spin on the drama of cohabitation, this time targeting the student population. In Flatmates, set in St Andrews, the plot is brought even closer to home. Both plays boasted a colourful cast of characters, but demanded that the audience be brought into their worlds to truly have an effect. This was done successfully in Just As It Is, yet fell short in Flatmates.
Flatmates opens with Lyn (Natalie English) and Steve (Luke Shepherd) bickering at the breakfast table and the rest of the play unfolds in a similar manner, with Steve antagonizing Tom (Alex Carr) and Lyn resisting prospective flatmate, Coralie. To add to the monotony of the plot, the characters are for the most part two-dimensional and opportunities to reveal their nuances were unfortunately missed. It was disappointing that quiet and troubled Tom’s strange relationship with his mother was only brought up in passing, although it had the potential to be developed further. Indeed, many questions in Flatmates are left unanswered. It would have been helpful to provide an explanation to what audience members continued to wonder at as the banter ensued: how did these students come to live together in the first place if they frustrate each other so unbearably?
Nonetheless, weaknesses in this play are due to oversights on the part of the script, and in no way reflect the talent of the cast. Special recognition should be given to Mallini Kannan, who gave a convincing performance as Coralie, a quirky music student with her own set ideas, not wishing to get mixed up in the conflict. Tony (Mark Paul), Coralie’s ‘unofficial fiancé’, as he refers to himself, complements Coralie’s role perfectly with his pretentiousness and odd behaviour, captured well by Paul as he awkwardly takes notes whilst inspecting the flat for Coralie. The duo’s comedic performance earned their share of laughs from the audience.
It is a shame that Flatmates was unable to take advantage of the many opportunities to reveal more of the characters’ dimensions. Although the stereotyped roles were entertaining, their lack of substance left something to be desired.
The second play, Just As It Is, sucked the audience in from the start and made one feel intimate with each and every character. From apparently animal-loving Lisa (Coco Claxton) who we later learn questions her relationship with her vegan boyfriend, too-posh Rudy (Fredrik Svensson) who turns out to be a scholarship boy, characters are complex. This was achieved through a number of thoughtful techniques. Amy (Lauren MacLellan) is skillfully weaved in as a third-party observer of her older brother Neil (Stephen Quinn) and his housemates. Her sweetness and sincerity, mastered by MacLellan, evoke from the housemates confessions of their innermost vulnerabilities. Lighting was also used to indicate when a character was in monologue, lending the opportunity to express his/her personal stories. Writer and director Alice Shearon should be congratulated on her script.
The play devotes sufficient time to showcasing each of the five housemates, including Craig (Mark Tomlinson) and James (Ben Bonci). Yet, it is overambitious in introducing more characters than it can adequately handle. Charlie (Charlotte Kelly), all-round keener, and Mary (Joanna Fitch), James’ newly-adopted academic daughter, soon become entangled in the story. Attention is detracted away from the housemates, and as a result, the intensity of the plot dwindles.
Not only is Just As It Is amusing, met by the audience with boisterous laughter, but it also closes with a positive message. The real reason for Amy’s visit to St Andrews is finally revealed: to discover her talent. James reassures her that there is no need to rush to figure out who she is; there will be plenty of time for that at university.
A talented cast along with a well-written script made watching Just As It Is is a real treat.
Image by Adelaide Waldrop