first night

The Physicists

Shaheen Ahmed-Chowdhury sees the new talent on offer with this year's Freshers Play.

 The Physicists, by Friedrich Dürenmaat,  was the challenge laid to the cast of this year’s Fresher’s Play- a satirical drama, set in a sanatorium to which the famous physicists Mobius, Einstein and Newton play patients. In homage to the play, and to these three men, this review shall be performed in a very methodological manner.

Charlotte Whitehead succeeded immensely in creating a set that not only represented the time period we were in, but which was also incredibly practical for her actors to manoeuvre within. The cast had an absolute smörgåsbord of positions from which they could deliver their lines. This was not always utilised as well as it could have been by the Director, Fergus Neville. There were a few occasions whereby actors were delivering lines with their backs to the audience, but it was just made more frustrating knowing that there were clear blocking configurations available to avoid this.

Lighting effects were used sparingly, but quite effectively in this production. Credit must go to Fergus and his Tech Director, Alice Clarke, for this. With just the use of two strong front facing lights, together they managed to display very charming shifts into evenings, and an absolutely superb silhouette effect to close the show. The climax of the play was pitched beautifully, and the lighting had a massive part to play in finishing on the high that this show did.

Neville was successful in many aspects of his direction in this production. For instance, the testosterone-laden thugs that are introduced later in the show were a delight to watch. It seems Fergus knew how caricatured and over the top he wanted these thugs, and it was pulled off with aplomb by Marcus Rapacioli, David Fairbairn and Sam Penn. However, there was so much variation between all the parts, in terms of how farcically/overly/underly played they were, that you were never really sure if you were watching something farcical or something serious. Passes can be given to Jack Whitmore and Freddie Rollason ('Einstein' and 'Newton', respectively) , as the plot dictates that their characters clearly were larger than life at times. But especially when discrepancies cropped up between some of the smaller roles, it left the audience feeling a tad confused as to what exactly they were watching.

On the whole, this was clearly a very talented cast. The casting of the three Physicists was faultless, especially that of Mobius, played by George Ellis. Ellis had a tough task on his hands, as Mobius is a character who is restrained emotionally for large periods, but then has these extreme bursts of emotion. These bursts overall were played very well and very bravely. It was the scenes within which Mobius is neither extremely angry, nor is he delivering his ingeniously logical, methodological speeches, where Ellis fell just slightly short. I’m sure tomorrow and Saturday, once first night jitters ease off, he’ll settle into his role that much more, and really do Mobius justice.

The double act of Newton and Einstein played off each other fantastically. You could sense the camaraderie between Jack Whitmore(Einstein) and Freddie Rollason(Newton) throughout the entirety of the second act. Whitmore especially, was superb in his role. Einstein was given more of the one-liners, more of the laughs to pull from the audience than Newton, and Whitmore got these from us and then some. His fantastic comedic timing, his patience in delivering these few lines, was a joy to watch.

Rollason’s role I feel was perhaps more of a challenge. Newton was written in by Dürenmaat as a much more lively and borderline farcical character. This absurdist nature was done quite well, but would have been more believable if Rollason could just really go for it, and have no shame when on stage. His superb costume though, almost gives Rollason the platform over the next two nights to go on and basically make an ass of himself in the interest of the show.

Grace Bryan was excellent in her portrayal as the menacing Dr. Von Zahnd. Although some of her dialogue could have potentially done with trimming, she delivered almost every line with great aplomb. Two of the standout performances of the night though came from Emma-Louise Howell and David Fairbairn, in much smaller roles. Fairbairn managed to create a deliciously satisfying tone of voice for his role as Oskar Rose, a Priest, which, when paired with Howell’s incredibly believable portrayal of Lina, a wife who has lost her husband Mobius to the sanatorium, was brilliant to watch. Howell displayed a level of emotion that came across so sincerely, that it took me by surprise somewhat. It’s a massive shame she wasn’t on stage more.

Overall, a strong effort from the cast and crew of this year’s Fresher’s play. Many things were done well, some stupendously, some, with a little tweaking, could be amazing, and some food for thought perhaps too.

27 November 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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