The Merrier

Wed 5th – Sat 8th November 2014

reviews

Megan Dunne

at 00:39 on 6th Nov 2014

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I am forced to give this play one star as it failed to provide a trigger warning for a graphic description of rape. An audience member sitting in the row behind me was very obviously distressed and had to leave the theatre because of this. Personally, I left the ADC theatre after the curtain fell feeling angry and disturbed at the irresponsibility and carelessness of those involved in the play; even a simple 'please be advised this performance contains mentions of x' would have served to prevent this upsetting event from occurring.

Though this incident was enough to cement my ill view of the performance, I was far from pleased with it beforehand. The comedy was a part of the fabric of the piece, but it felt forced; many quips fell flat to my ears and at many points I felt the audience was laughing at jokes I simply didn't think were funny. Many characters felt simply off. Clara Strandhoj's Fran is slightly too enthusiastic; Helena Fallstrom's Helena is slightly too dour; Rachael Naylor's Louise is slightly too brattish. The other actors were adequate, but none really stood out from the crowd. Ben Hawkins as Tim was perhaps the most entertaining of the lot, but the forced exasperated reactions to his lines from the rest of the cast dimmed his light somewhat. The costumes were fine: they were realistic and none drew attention away from the play itself. The 'drunk' gag that ran through much of the play, captained by Strandhoj, was too much played upon. As far as the script goes, despite shrill insistence from Strandhoj's Fran, we never really learn much about the characters we are engaging with, except of their past evils. It is not even obvious that Fran and Patrick are meant to be twins until it is explicitly stated by another character; for several minutes at the start I took them to be a couple. The plot twist between Patrick and Ben Martineau's Martyn is swiftly taken up and then just as simply abandoned with no real resolution. Overall disappointing and poorly handled – I did not enjoy this play on any level.

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Eli Keren

at 02:24 on 6th Nov 2014

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The Merrier is new comedy that, in its strongest moments, captures the human essence of awkwardness wonderfully. A five-year reunion sees seven friends trying to recreate their university days by drinking too much and embarrassing themselves (a feat most of us are all too familiar with). Old grudges resurface, too much wine vanishes, and nobody but the audience has a good time.

The Merrier showcases two kinds of awkwardness, one intentional, one unfortunately less so. When the dialogue is awkward, the play is a joy to watch, and strong comic performances by Ben Hawkins and Clara Strandhoj in particular stand out on this front, with his innocence and her frustration working together to draw some real laughs. When the dialogue is sparse, however, the watching is, well… awkward. The play was hampered by the presence of too many cast members on stage who spend too long simply not saying anything. This flaw is particularly apparent when the play attempts to carry two scenes at the same time, one upstage, one downstage. The dialogue in one scene is necessarily absent while the characters in the others are talking, and the overall effect is that both lack the pace and human touch that the rest of the play delivers so well.

The cast were a similarly mixed bag. Rachael Naylour shone as 13-year-old Louise, a one-woman foil to the entire adult cast, delivering her lines with deadpan brilliance, while Ben Martineau’s portrayal of Martyn’s apathy towards the entire situation was entirely believable. Helena Fallstroum was similarly convincing when she was allowed to speak, but, particularly towards the end of the play, spent a long time on stage in silence. By contrast, Amber Dillon’s Bex and Gus Mitchell’s Harry were only engaging when in private conversation amongst themselves. When interacting with the rest of the cast, their ability fell just short of what the rest of the play had promised.

The plot itself was not beyond fault. The hosting characters seem to have invited Martyn to their reunion exclusively for the purpose of being unpleasant to him and hoping he would leave, while several other plot points relied heavily on the construction of a situation that seemed a little too much of a stretch to believe: a group of friends reunite for the first time in 5 years and almost immediately play a game of sardines. The witty dialogue and on-stage chemistry compensated for this, however, and the play was enjoyable even if not always believable, as confirmed by the audience’s near-continuous laughter over the play’s first few scenes. Also to the production’s credit was the set, which was well built and served the play well, and the lighting, which was subtle and effective.

The Merrier’s most notable feature for me was the vast and sudden shift in tone towards the end. While I had been thoroughly enjoying the light-hearted comedy that I had been expecting, a series of late-play revelations take the production to a much darker place. The comedy ceases abruptly, and though the final scenes are both well acted and well written, I felt as though I was watching the conclusion to a different play than the one I had been enjoying up until that point. I left the theatre feeling somewhat shaken and uncomfortable – which I think was what the playwright intended.

Theatregoers looking for a light-hearted comedy and those seeking a heart-wrenching tragedy will both be disappointed, but The Merrier bravely captures the stronger points of both. Though they are set in contrast to one another within the play, The Merrier ultimately delivers something that neither a comedy nor a tragedy can when standing alone. There is something very raw about this production, and it left me feeling conflicted in a way that few plays have managed to, which is entirely to its credit. Go and see it, you’ll understand what I mean.

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