In my four years of observing and partaking in the St Andrews theatre scene, it has been fascinating and inspiring to watch the shift away from reliance on Mermaids-funded productions to unaffiliated student productions. This is a double-edged sword in the microcosm of this town, as there is a danger that privately-funded theatre pieces will not have the expertise or funding to match or surpass Mermaids’ usually high standards. This is, however, vehemently not the case with St Andrews’ fastest growing independent theatre company, BoxedIn Theatre, which has created something sublime and powerful in their latest offering, Lobes.
Based on last summer’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it seems that intimate two-hander love stories about mental health are in vogue – and I admit I was sceptical during the play’s opening movement that it had anything new to offer. Henry Roberts’ writing is witty and engaging, but the extremely self-referential nature of the dialogue did make the opening of the play grate a little. X and Y, played masterfully by Anoushka Kohli and Bailey Fear, spent the first 30 minutes of the play making constant and unrealistically self-aware commentary, to an extent that I wondered if this was Roberts’ ‘get-out’ for having written a story that panders to tropes.
However, Roberts had outsmarted me. As the play continued, the conceits of mixed-up narrative time and X’s unreliable memory made me rethink the assumptions I had made from the opening moments and gave the plot and characterisation a clever twist. This was all complemented by nicely-handled voiceovers from both characters, smoothly controlled by technician Grace Cowie. Apart from this, technical support was minimal: the use of jerky body language and jumbled-up conversation to show time passing was enough. It was left to the actors to maintain the energy and the flow of the play for its full 90 minutes – which they achieved gorgeously.
Site-specific theatre, which BoxedIn Theatre prides itself upon, is tricky to get right. The setting in a lab was a nice touch, with fairy lights rigged to wooden frames circling the performance in the round. The set did take away some of the intimacy of the performance, but quite possibly this is what director Oli Savage had in mind. In the clinical white space, the effect was for the performance to feel a little cold and detached, perhaps reflecting the state of X’s mind.
So – what was missing? Although I thoroughly enjoyed the play, something about Lobes felt a little too clever; a little too pleased with itself. Once the complexities of memory had been explored, I would have liked to look a little more deeply into the realities of X’s depression, or spend less time on such self-aware dialogue. I felt at times that Kohli was not given enough of a chance to explore the realities of her character’s life, and therefore, whether because of writing or direction, became a little one-noted. Something felt like it was missing from the discourse. All this can be explained by the central concept of ‘misremembering’, yet that does not excuse some of the play’s weaker moments.
Nevertheless, these are small quibbles, and only mentioned because of the otherwise professional standard of the production. Lobes is gorgeous and subtly original, and easily ranks alongside professional productions, both for its writing and execution. I commend BoxedIn Theatre’s masterminds Oli Savage and Emily Hepher, and look forward to their next outing.
STARS: * * * *
Photos by Henry Roberts