From the moment you sit down to watch An Unexpected Visitor, you are immediately inducted into a society of student activists, who have dreams of making a real difference in the world and are not content with the bake sales they have been doing — a frustration perhaps shared by many of us at times. In preparation of this, the leaders of the society wait for a mysterious visitor to show up and brief them on ‘the job’, which everyone is only allowed to talk about in discreet codes.
From this simple but accessible premise sparks a whole series of comedic miscommunications between the characters which keep the audience chuckling in their seats in appreciation of the play’s polished timing and ingenuity. Filled with delightfully self-deprecating humour, the play mocks the faux-arrogance of students, who eagerly ascribe self-important titles and backstab each other just to become the ‘vice-president’ of the society.
Alex Blanc, the director, tells me that the play breaks away from the traditional conception of theatre, where each scene is carefully managed and controlled, to create something fun and casual. Taking his inspiration from open-aired garden plays in the summer where audiences don’t feel any weight of expectation, he chose to stage this production in the familiar setting of a bar. Audiences can enjoy free drinks and sit wherever they like, but at the same time remain very invested in the play.
Everyone’s experience of the play is going to be different. Depending on the audience, the characters will improvise lines of dialogue to create a play that is truly alive, spontaneous and interactive. In this sense, not only is the play a brilliant display of teamwork from all the actors, but a collaborative effort of the audience as well. At times, the audience will even be invited to voice their thoughts openly, which is made possible by the intimate nature of its venue.
At this point, the talent and dedication of the cast cannot go unmentioned. It is clear, from the very beginning, that careful deliberation has been taken to tailor each role to its actor. The result is a performance that rivals even professional shows in the West End. For example, Eli, played by Hamish Venters, has quite a temper about him. Yet he performs a nuanced evolution from a quiet, burning anger inside at the start and letting the audience feel the full force of his fury at the end. The contrast creates this multi-layered character that develops during the course of the play with strong emotional continuity.
This multi-layered sophistication also extends to the whole play. While each character works in unity and complements each other, the keen-eyed amongst the audience will notice that they are also frequently performing their own goofy improvisations in the background, providing constant but subtle comic relief. Billy, played by Tommy Hurst, is a perfect example as he tends to switch off and entertain himself with newfound zeal at random moments.
With free drinks on offer to every member of the audience, ‘An Unexpected Visitor’ promises to be the ideal way to enjoy a relaxing and engaging evening.