The Oxford Roof Climber's Rebellion

Wed 9th – Sat 12th April 2014

reviews

Florence Kettle

at 12:39 on 10th Apr 2014

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The Oxford Roof Climber’s Rebellion has been brought to Britain for the first time, and is being staged by a fittingly Oxonian local group. It explores the tensions and changes both domestic and political discovered by two great minds upon their return from the First World War, which send them somehow rushing to childish activities as a coping mechanism. If you’re looking for a ground-breaking psychological expose of well crafted and unique characters, this is not it. However, you will an enjoyable evening and be entertained, welcomed and perhaps more informed.

The production is being staged in Wolvercote Village Hall, and the atmosphere benefitted from the sense of community as I was met by friendly and enthusiastic faces around the room. It was more like being in a school assembly than anything, and I couldn’t suppress the feeling that I might have to help clear the chairs away afterwards (I didn’t). The production used the limited space available remarkably well, utilising all possible parts of the stage: early on the two main characters climbed off stage right, a podium on ground level was used in the penultimate scene and Lawrence of Arabia was seen cowering on a windowsill. The set had been impressively and carefully crafted, complete with artwork by Elizabeth Kirkham, used well to distinguish between settings. It also provided a useful distraction during one or two scenes telling of the Graves' domestic troubles in which the pace slowed, leaving the mind and eye wandering. Alarm was raised at the firing of the gun, which knocked over a typewriter along with half the audience, and admittedly left me concerned for my life as a passionate Jack (Tony Bywaters) stumbled onstage and pointed it what seemed directly at me. During scene changes war poetry from Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Jane Taylor and John McCrae was recited, an effective tool which maintained the dramatic tension and added more (if slightly hackneyed) meaning than much of the script, and was an enterprising and interesting decision. The strength of this piece lies in the quick chemistry of the Robert Graves and T. E. Lawrence characters, which was at times rendered brilliantly, but was also undermined by problems with pace. The play itself I feel is what was at fault in this regard: not a first choice by the production team, the script lacks ingenuity and does not demonstrate a complex understanding or realisation of its characters. This is difficult to swallow in a production which is a fictional extension of non-fictional characters of which most of the audience probably had some knowledge, as I found repeatedly that my character expectation did not align with the playwright’s. The roof climbing aspect was not fully integrated into the plot for too long and this disengagement lent the play a somewhat disjointed feel, coming across as merely a whimsical add-on.

The acting and comic ability of Andrew Churchill Stone as T. E. Lawrence was clear, who inhabited his role comprehensively, skillfully showing the audience the quick-witted, high functioning, broken and fragile nature of his character. His physicality was well matched to his character, whilst that of Steve Davis as Robert Graves was more detached, who seemed a bit more at a loss as to what to do with his many limbs; perhaps this was intentional, he as the younger and more ostensibly insecure of the two had to take his every cue, verbal and physical, from his senior. Sara Davis as Nancy was a powerful and notable figure on the stage, and interacted impressively with her husband, Robert Graves, her independence well demonstrated in her appearance and assertive use of her body on the stage. The direction was well done, though I would have appreciated some more variation, as the actors tended to stand at the front of the stage and soliloquize to a distant rafter. All the actors did fill out their roles well, having clearly devoted much time and energy to learning about who their characters were, what they were trying to say and why with the voices and bodies given to them.

Overall I had a lovely evening, glad to be able to have a glimpse into this community’s life, and witness the talent and fun they exhibit when they create together. I would recommend anyone in the area to go and see this and support a great organisation.

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