Occupied

Tue 12th – Sat 16th November 2013

reviews

Jenni Reid

at 09:39 on 13th Nov 2013

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The Cambridge theatre scene produces some fantastic well-known shows each term, with many of the same talented faces cropping up time and time again and packed audiences all but guaranteed, but it is always refreshing to see people try something a bit more original, with an undeniably ‘student-y’, unpolished feel. Credit must go to Harry Buckoke, the writer of Occupied, firstly for winning this year’s ‘Other Prize’ for original writing and secondly for his well-written, irreverent script. The premise was interesting, the themes timely, and the characters wonderfully recognisable exaggerations (or in some cases not) of people most of us have come into contact with. Everything seemed in place to provide a really entertaining night. Unfortunately, although much of the script was well-observed satire of the student left and political activism, too much of the delivery was awkward or strained to draw all these elements together satisfyingly.

The scene needs little setting, for Occupied follows the short tale of a mismatched bunch of Cambridge activists in none other than the Corpus Playroom. ‘Occupy Corpus’, as the movement styles itself, has interrupted a production of The Producers and set up camp in the Playroom in order to… well, it’s not all that clear why, either to us or the occupiers, but there are enough outspoken characters to give us their own take on the matter. From the aggressive feminist to the passionate socialist, the bumbling anarchist to the American still pining for Occupy Wall Street, this odd-box ensemble is ripe with comic potential. Tongue in cheek lines about checking privilege and Nick Clegg bashing were amusing and rang true, and the more farcical elements of the play got the biggest laughs. But the script didn’t entirely hold its own, going on just a touch too long and seeming to have the same conversations on rotation for the last half hour of the play. A sudden bout of improvisation to draw the play to a conclusion could have worked well but was executed poorly, with too much build up and no pay off; meanwhile, this was all the conclusion we got, meaning that the story we had been following all evening never felt properly closed and, to be honest, wasn’t quite funny enough to make up for the fact that it never went into enough depth to show us why we should really care about the story.

As much as I hate to say it, it was the acting and not the script that was the biggest fault of this production. Granted, this is not a weighty dramatic character study, but across the cast there was a tad too much rushing through lines, stumbling and repeating jokes, or a stilted delivery which makes the words sound like they were being read straight out of the script. The cast’s comedic skills were just about there – it wasn’t a packed house which usually makes comedy easier, and a good few chuckles definitely emerged from the crowd at regular intervals. But too often what should have been interesting and genuinely thought-provoking points were lost by having neither comic bite nor excellent acting. At one point David Matthews’s haughty student thesp laments how horrible it is to get a bad review, and how you just want to tell the reviewer and every person who reads the review that they missed the point. I’m sorry guys, as far as I can tell I loved the point; I just didn’t love the show.

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