Review: OUDS New Writing Festival

The OUDS new writing festival showcases four new pieces from playwrights across Oxford. Optimistically over-estimating her free time, but with an insatiable thirst for theatre, your favourite (I’m assuming) Cherwell reporter set out to review all four of them.

First up is Take Off by Lamorna Ash, the story of an astronaut about to go on a four year flight who first has to break up with his girlfriend (“I just need space!”). The dialogue is amusing and naturalistic, the sibling relationships particularly sweet and wellobserved, but the premise wears thin over the course of the play. Choosing between your girlfriend and interplanetary travel isn’t (as yet) a very relatable problem, and the piece was amusing but not truly thought provoking.

Next is Adam Leonard’s A Sense of Falling, a play about trains, CCTV, and mental illness. The play’s three characters are clearly defined, the actors and script evidently bringing out the best in each other. There’s a genuine sense of mystery, which is resolved to a certain extent, but not as neatly as I would have liked, or felt the narrative required. One of the three characters, Kingsley, was undeniably well-written and acted, but seemed to have no place in the play. Is he a really sinister estate agent? Is he a criminal? Is he just a device to further the plot with no purpose of his own? I really couldn’t say, and the lack of resolution in this respect didn’t feel like a tantalising enigma, it felt like a cop-out.

Lads by Mallika Sood is the third stop on my theatrical journey. Leo and Seb, a gay couple and absolute lads, make a bet as to which one of them can “nail a straight date”, although not, theoretically, in that way.

The play is engaging to watch, but struggles from the start against the unlikeliness of its central plot point. I can’t understand why anyone, regardless of gender or orientation, would form a one-sided emotional connection with someone as a bet – it seems beyond cruel, and doesn’t endear the audience to Leo or Seb, for whom we’re supposedly rooting. Jokes about revulsion at the idea of vaginas and about women being “bitches” or “lesbians” because they won’t date one of our dynamic duo also seem somewhat misjudged. Misogyny and cis-sexism aren’t any more appealing coming from gay lads than they are from straight lads. The dialogue shows promise, but it’s funniest and most engaging when the characters talk about issues peripheral to the problematic plot. I left wishing the author’s talents had been better utilised on a plot less riddled with unfortunate stereotypes.

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Finally, Twin Primes by Flo Read. Among the plays on offer, Twin Primes alone uses the potential drawbacks of a small stage, small cast, and time constraints to its advantage, and does so with elegance and intelligence. A cast of two act out a variety of small but perfectly formed scenes with utilitarian titles like ‘The Business Meeting’, ‘The Beach’, and ‘The Football’, each of which is almost a miniplay in its own right, but with thematic links to the others. The play is like a short story collection in which the author never ran out of ideas. It’s spectacular and I am in awe of the writer, but also of the actors charged with performing a variety of very different characters.

What new wisdom have I gained from my travels? The plays all show great promise; catch a couple if you can, but if you can only see one, see Twin Primes. You won’t regret it.

The shows are running at the Burton Taylor Studio from Monday 16th February until Saturday 21st February.