You Maverick

Tue 12th – Fri 15th February 2013

reviews

Lily Levinson

at 01:48 on 13th Feb 2013

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For a piece of new writing, 'You Maverick!' (by Matthew Parvin, whose 'A Row of Parked Cars' transferred to the BT after its very successful run at last year’s Turl Street Arts Festival) is impressive. The script mostly avoids the pitfalls of trying to deal with a too-large theoretical concept or too much monologising, and my attention was quickly gripped and held throughout. It is helped by the dynamic performances of all three cast members, who do well in the small space of Jesus’s Habakkuk Room.

The production is set in a single room and performed in the round, staging that comes into its own as the tension onstage begins to increase and tighten. In the fifteen minutes between the house opening and the play proper starting, the three characters sit onstage in deliberately awkward silence, lit by a cold blue light. This made for a noticeably giggly and whispery wait by the audience, which was not necessarily a bad thing, providing a background unsettling atmosphere that fed into the play itself.

Physically, Charlie Hooper’s performance as cocky lad Greg is very well realised, and continued to be so through the change to desperate panic in the final scenes. Charlie Metcalfe as Timby, the inexperienced welfare officer trying to solve the problem of Greg’s homophobic bullying of Kasper (Tim Drummond), makes a lovely comic moment out of dropping a sandwich on the floor, and his nervous hesitations and stutters are also perfectly timed. Parvin successfully – and importantly – avoids making any of the characters one-dimensional, although sometimes their various dimensions didn’t quite slot together: there is something unconvincing in the balance between Greg’s ‘lashtastic’ story about Lembit Opik in the Union bar, and his moments of apparently genuine thoughtfulness. One or other seemed out of place, and Hooper couldn’t quite reconcile them. I wish something else had been done with Kasper, too. Tim Drummond pulls off the switch from meek to powerful brilliantly, and the revelation of a new side of the character’s personality comes as a real dramatic surprise. But representing a bisexual character as creepy and near-psychotic isn’t much of a progression from Greg’s stereotyping him as ‘greedy’, and, given the script’s other strengths, it is a disappointing move.

These strengths, I think, lie in the moment-to-moment dialogue, which the actors build on, ensuring between them that the pace never drops. (It would have been nice to let them back onstage to receive their applause). Despite its occasional mis-steps, the play’s questions about the ways we construct identity are asked and performed with enough sharpness and subtlety for 'You Maverick!' to be well worth seeing.

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Declan Clowry

at 12:12 on 13th Feb 2013

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Seeing a new play in Oxford is always risky. Half the time you are treated to some "edgy" Sarah Kane rip-off in which people scream untintelligible profundities at one another whilst rolling around in fake blood, and the other half it's another play about being in bloody Oxford. Matthew Parvin's "You Maverick" falls into the second category. Thankfully, within minutes it explodes out, leaving a pile of smouldering rubble and blackened cliches, or something, the metaphor can be taken too far.

This is a play that deals with important issues: Lad Culture, victimization, sexuality, and the loss of identity and control in the face of pressure to conform. However, it approaches them on an intensely personal, raw, and minimalistic way, through the relationship between just three characters, each of whom appears as both victim and victimiser in turn, never giving the audience a chance to rest or let our sympathies lie in any one place too long. The play begins with sporty, lash-loving 'lad' Gregory (Charlie Hooper) as the prototypical Enfant Terrible, smirking and bombasting his way out of trouble whilst dominating the effectively ineffectual Welfare Officer Timby (Charlie Metcalfe) and his victim Kasper (Tim Drummond). Everything from his (hockey?) stash joggers to his lurid bragging has the audience wishing for his comeuppance, preferably as quickly and as ignominiously as possibly. The genius of the play is to leave us regretting it when the axe finally does fall. Hooper had a tricky task in portraying such a complete reversal of fortune, and was notably better at showing Gregory as a desperate, disturbed boy, in fear of losing his future than he was at playing the cock of the hoop at the beginning, although it is just possible that this was intentional. Either way, his anguish and confusion were tangible, and his loss of control felt genuine as he struggled with the realization, too late, that the tables had turned upon him. Director Sami Ibrahim's decision to have the whole thing play out tightly encircled by the audience enhanced the sense of claustrophobia, the magnification of small issues, into huge grievances, and the feeling of constant surveillance, with no knob of buttery gossip left unspread, that is life in a small college. Certainly this helped create a real sense of the importance, to the three characters at least, of their embarrassments, the risk of losing a place at the University, or of constantly being reminded of their status as an outsider.

Drummond as Kasper, after spending the first few scenes in silence, got the longest and best speeches of the play, and pulled them off with an impressive air of creepy derangement. In the midst of pouring all the bile that may be found on Facebook's "Misogyny Overheard at Oxford" page onto Gregory's head as the scapegoat for 'Lad Culture' and its many misogynistic and homophobic crimes, he delivered a moving (but also wonderfully ambiguous - was he play-acting for sympathy?) account of discovering his bisexuality, and the way that it had left him feeling unaccepted by any group, not quite one thing or the other (also allowing a few well observed snipes at Oxford's incestuous LGBT scene, one of my favourite lines of the play being simply "too many men in tanktops").

He held the line at just about the right point between evil and embittered, although perhaps he could have shown a greater variety of feeling, and used some other mode of threatening body language than standing inside people's personal space and looking a bit like he might lick them. However, these are perhaps small potatoes, especially given the space limitations of the performance space. Given that there were only three actors it would be remiss of me not to discuss Metcalfe's performance as Timby, the lonely, earnest Welfare Officer whose heart is in the right place, but whose bollocks are nowhere to be seen. Metcalfe seemed to have swallowed a whole box of jitterbugs, and was expressing every tic known to man, gurning, thumb-twiddling, neck-scratching, skin picking, etc. However, this was only irritating during the long pre-performance period during which the three remained sitting "on-stage". At other points he projected a good sense of insecurity, embarrassment, and general sad-gitness, and was believable as a slightly older, if more naive, character than the others. He performed particularly well dropping and scrabbling about to reassemble a cucumber sandwich, although I suppose the act itself creates a certain undignified atmosphere.

Lighting was limited and sometimes a bit odd, with changes supposedly reflecting seasons making little noticeable difference, and odd spots appearing at the sides of the room into which the actors appeared to have trouble placing themselves; however, given the impromptu nature of the space (Jesus College's Habbakuk room, best known to Jesubites as somewhere collections are sat) it would be unfair to make much of this. Likewise scenery and props were minimal, but this was not an issue given the nature of the play. As far as new writing in Oxford goes, you will be lucky to see better than You Maverick. Apart from a little "flowery language", which is, to be fair, not unrealistic when put into the mouths of Oxford undergraduates, and a few uncertain moments, such as an inexplicable scene in which Kasper receives a phonecall from his mother, Matthew Parvin's play is pared down to something in the ballpark (or neighbourhood for those wishing to avoid sporting metaphors) of perfection. But why trust me? Go and see it, while it's still on.

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