Not My Cup of Tea

Thu 16th – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Lise McNally

at 03:37 on 22nd Aug 2012

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With her darkly funny ‘Not My Cup of Tea’, writer Polly Goss certainly takes her audience on a turbulent trip. Set in a 1970s hippie commune fed “on the tender blubber of inherited land”, this beautifully layered piece infuses its comedy with something darker, lacing it with the subtle aromas of the troubling topics of privilege and sacrifice. The result is a potent brew.

The comic potential of watching five deluded graduates build themselves a rather narrow “revolution” is certainly exploited to full effect. We laugh at, rather than with, Rolly and his friends as they give to their narrow existence an ideological significance. From the script to the staging, the production maintains a wonderful ironic distance between the characters’ perception and reality, and allows us to smile indulgently at it. The action taking place entirely within the cottage’s living room, its claustrophobically heavy furnishings and close black walls making it amusingly apparent how far the influence of the commune really stretches. It is an especially nice touch that, when the privileged bunch do venture into something genuinely experimental, they experience “the final frontier” by putting their drugs in a fine china tea set.

However, what makes this production truly intriguing is the way that the laughs are never easy, never able to shake off the sense of darker implications. Naivety may be funny, but it is also dangerous; it just doesn’t know it yet. As commune leader Rolly, Tom Oxenham conveys this exquisitely, his jovial presence and aristocratic accent gesturing towards the influence he is able to exert, for good or bad. Laurence Williams (as Rolly’s antagonist Victor) gives an equally impressive performance, moving about the stage with a feline grace which is at once engaging and suggestively dangerous. His is the voice of reality disturbing the happy commune and, with every subtle movement or gesture, he demands to be heard.

Upholding this fine balance between comedy and cause for concern, the production’s use of music for the scene changes is highly effective. 1970s classics punctuate the scenes, but the once familiar lyrics of the Beatles, Hopkin or Stevens get distorted and twisted when placed in the context of the action unfolding on the stage. Such regular reversals of expectation leave the audience truly wrong footed. As the drama unfolds beneath the comedy, it becomes increasingly difficult to relax.

A truly interesting and innovative drama, the talented cast create an ensemble of characters at once likeable and totally unrelatable. The world they build themselves is hilarious in its insularity, and total in its commitment to itself. Go and marvel at how they cope when real life knocks on the door.

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Charlie Brookhouse

at 10:00 on 22nd Aug 2012

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'Not My Cup of Tea': a euphemism or, in this play, perhaps a way of passing the blame. When four students descend on their idealistic friend’s inherited cottage to help him establish a counter-culture, their first mysterious evening together is fuelled by one of his herbal concoctions. The summer night of 1970 is illuminated by psychedelic debauchery as betrayal of fundamental principles gives way to the confusion of friends with lovers. This is precisely the kind of destabilisation that the play’s staunch moralist, Rolly, requires: "The road of excess" he quotes, "leads to the palace of wisdom". Unfortunately, the pathetic transformation of cottage into pandemonium only serves to undermine the bohemianism of such bourgeoisies.

All literature is inscribed with a faint conditional clause and new writing that decides to make a subject of a conflict between a reality and an ideal needs to be especially original. Rolly and his philosophical antagonist, Victor, bear too great a resemblance to Wilde’s character, Lord Henry Wotton. Their trade in aphorism and allusion, although compositionally clever, leaves a difficult uncertainty about how far each is falling victim to their own rhetoric. The onus is on Rolly to prove that his erratic behaviour and staunch moralising is not just a pattern of self-delusion. Victor, however, has nothing to lose but the intrigue of the situation, something a voyeuristic audience is likely to understand given that Tom Oxenham makes Rolly’s frustrated fits progressively more violent. It is difficult to decide whether the characters of Eddy, Belle and Suzy-Anne are simply victims in this reckless game of experimentation or whether they too are complicit. It's a shame that there is an unresolved ambiguity about whether this is a collective or individual tragedy; whether, that is, it is only Rolly that brings about his own destruction.

Polly Goss’s script is polished and the play’s cast renders confident characters with conviction. Dashiell Barber moderates the brash assertions of the public-school boy, Eddy, with the amusing idiocy of trivial banter. Bethan McEvoy, as Belle, Eddy’s opposite number, is correspondingly flirtatious yet remains half-conscious of the possibility that she’s being manipulated. A well-executed play, ‘Not My Cup of Tea’ leaves a strong aftertaste.

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