Welcome Break

Wed 22nd – Sat 25th January 2014

reviews

Jack May

at 12:13 on 23rd Jan 2014

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There’s something really comforting about seeing two people who you know are highly likely to be funny get up on stage to be funny – it’s like moulding into your favourite armchair, and even before the show properly started the audience were primed to find everything and anything hilarious. It is obvious, then, that the reputations of Ben Pope and Alex McKeith precede them, and rightly so. Their execution of the script throughout is sumptuously funny – lines are delivered at the perfect moment for coming timing without exception, and every detail, down to the last facial twitch and small gesture, is performed with infectious humour. The producing team are also to be congratulated – Daisy Bard’s direction brings the show a logistical smoothness in which nothing comes across clunky or poorly-managed, whilst the creative team as a whole, and especially Ella Clarke, are to be lauded for creating such an enigmatic set design.

The show starts, as you might expect from its title, in the universally dreary world of the motorway service station, and Ben Pope’s character Adam, though perhaps predictable to begin with, provides an anchor of recognition for the audience amidst the eventually wild world of the play. Meanwhile Harold, played by Alex McKeith, is very much a departure from the real. Tantalisingly bonkers and insistently funny, he smashes through the difficulties of getting a cold audience to start laughing through every facet of his delivery, his physicality, and his very aura.

Furnished by such talent and with such a recognisably joke-worthy setting, Alex McKeith’s script is raised to unimaginable heights. The relationship he provides between the two characters is simultaneously endearing, unnerving, and, of course, hilarious, and as the play progresses, the development of ideas and suggestions throughout keeps the audience curious (between the laughter) as to where it all might be heading.

Given an audience with such a whetted appetite, then, it seems a bit baffling that the script goes where it does. Without wanting to reveal too many spoilers, the final third of the play seems to lead it away from its successful comic roots and into another sphere to which it does not necessarily seem to belong. The appearance of Greek mythology seems unwarranted in many ways, and indeed at its first mention the audience tittered with the air of an uncomfortable recipient of a non-joke. Once it transpires that this is no joke, the audience seems to quieten down, and the last minutes are coloured with a dull semi-silence from the audience that seems such a shame after its raucous beginnings. It’s almost as if an attempt at genre-collusion has taken place on the sly – the final twenty minutes read like the conclusion of a good old-fashioned semi-experimental ADC drama, whilst the first forty-five minutes provide the very best that Cambridge comedy has to offer.

If this is the intention, I applaud them. The execution throughout is flawless, and the play as a whole is unavoidably memorable. If not, then I warn the theatregoer that they may not get precisely what they bargained for.

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Lauren Hutchinson

at 13:03 on 23rd Jan 2014

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Concerning Welcome Break, there’s not a lot I can reveal in the way of plot lines without giving too much away. But I do want to appeal to everyone in Cambridge to see this show. With an intellectually whimsical yet darkly comic aura, this production left me in a state akin to the aftermath of last year’s notoriously unclassifiable ‘Pitchfork Disney’. However, this is not, (unbelievably) a widely known theatrical venture like Ridley’s, but a piece of brand spanking new writing.

And what writing it is.

MacKieth’s signature comic dialogue is fresher than ever and his obvious intelligence and obscure hilarity radiate from it. From the moment the first line is delivered I was absorbed in the bizarre relationship between two seemingly unrelated men at a service station. Spattered with elements of physical theatre and wonderfully timed musical interjection (hats off to sound and lighting design), I suddenly found myself fostering an oddly premature affection for the play, akin to the dynamic unfolding between Adam and Harold. It was only as we hit the halfway mark that I managed to extract myself for long enough to scramble for my pad and pen. It dawned on me that over the last half hour, there had not been a single minute where I hadn’t laughed audibly three or four times. Bard’s direction not only complimented the writing but enhanced it, making great use of the two actors in what could have seemed like a plain and uninteresting space. The quick fire dialogue between the socks and sandals clad MacKeith and the intriguingly broody Pope, seemed to be constantly interrupted with outbursts of laughter from the audience, in every form- from the embarrassed middle aged titter to the riotously uncontrollable belly howl (teased out of me by a particularly wonderful impression of Schroedinger’s cat…).

Not only was the whole affair immensely entertaining, but without reeking of pretentiousness, the concluding section fully showcased MacKieth’s rare penchant for creating truly intelligent comedy. It’s clever than you expect whilst managing to be more accessible than you’d think. Basically, if it were possible to spend a day looking around someone’s mind, Mackieth’s is the one you’d go for and Welcome Break will convince you of that flawlessly. Whenever I watch something like it, I am simultaneously baffled and astonished- I wonder how the hell ideas like this are ever conceived and shared, but remain incredibly grateful to people like MacKeith, that they are.

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