Papercuts: Trimalchio

Fri 20th May 2016


Clare Cavenagh

at 23:19 on 20th May 2016



Trimalchio, a new play performed in a rehearsed reading by Papercuts was an utter delight. So much so that I feel it was a kind of gift for them to let me review it, and I regret bitterly that it only ran for a single performance, in the tiny Larkum Studio - this play deserves, and I hope at some point will get, a full run.

I had never been to a Papercuts performance before, and I didn't quite know what to expect. I'd been told that they perform semi-staged readings of new works, script in hand. I was therefore kind of expecting everyone to sit around, reading solemnly and experimentally from their respective parts, while the audience nodded sagely. I was wrong. This performance was only a reading in that the actors still held scripts. These were hardly referred to for most characters, and didn't at all detract from the viewing of the performance (an effect probably helped along by the themes of the play itself). Contrary to what I had believed, there was no requirement of a particular leap from the audience while enjoying this performance - it felt very nearly finished, only inches away from being a truly staged play.

Nathan Hardisty's original script, the backbone of this most enjoyable evening, was hugely impressive. It followed Mark (Ed Zephyr), an incredibly self-aware and self-deprecating aspiring writer doing his best to simultaneously adapt The Great Gatsby for the stage, and free himself from the clinging shackles of past heartbreak. This exploit is initiated and funded by his close and very wealthy friend Frankie (Cecily Pierce), who invests an alarming amount in this project, employing and housing Mark while he writes, and even buying a theatre to stage the finished product. Together Frankie and Mark select actors Melanie (Katherine Ladd) and Nick (Stanley Thomas), are cast as Jordan and Nick respectively in the adaptation, despite having initially auditioned for the roles of Daisy and Gatsby. Melanie and Nick, as well as Frankie's wife Gerry (Dara Solina Homer) become instrumental in pulling Mark out of his depressive funk, and helping him to put on a smashing show, against all odds.

The script was brilliant in a number of ways. It got away with things that other plays couldn't have, like its metatheatrical fourth-wall breaking which became so prominent that it was difficult to tell if we were supposed to be watching one play, or two Russian-doll like ones, or if the play being staged was also the one being written. It pulled off a number of questionable jokes and puns, and it got away with presenting a central character who, in my description above, may look like a cliché or a common trope. As a hapless, self-deprecating, unsuccessful author, Mark perhaps sounds like someone instantly recognisable, or at the very least someone who half of the English undergraduates think/wish they are. But Mark remained so charming, and so complex, that he never felt cartoonish, and always kept the audience fully onside.

I, and some of the questionable types who accompanied me to this performance, felt almost as though the author of this play had raided our diaries, or indeed our brains, and recycled the material into a play. This is surely the sign of a very successful piece of writing. Likewise, someone remarked as we were leaving that it was surprising that Ed Zephyr, who played Mark, had not written his own lines, so easily and naturally did they trip off his tongue. This was true for most of the show - although there were some incidents of reading-voice (not surprising with scripts in hand) and some lines seemed a little overdone, the way script and actors fitted together was a pleasure to watch.

I thoroughly enjoyed Trimalchio, as did the rest of its privileged audience of 40. The script was ingenious and insightful, managing simultaneously to be hilarious, and frighteningly close to the bone, and it was performed highly successfully by the cast of five actors. I only wish that I could recommend that you go and see it, but barring that, I shall have to simply hope that this is not the last time Trimalchio makes it to the stage.


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