Where did the idea for this play come from? ‘Well, there was this weekend I spent in Cornwall chained to a bed…’ If that doesn’t intrigue, what will? Restrictions May Apply is the latest offering from Richard O’Brien, author of last year’s hit musical Turn Again Lane and winner of the New Writing Festival with Instead of Beauty.
The play was effectively commissioned by good friend and fellow Brasenose student Robert Williams, who wanted to direct a ‘new farce, a fast paced classic comedy’. O’Brien says, ‘We wanted to create a farce that was still relevant and modern- the old tricks are still there, but with a modern twist.’ Williams agrees: ‘We both believe that comedy as an art form should be done well and taken seriously. I don’t think there’s enough comedy in Oxford. There’s a greater temptation to do tragedy because people think it’s more respected, it can hide behind the veil of its own superiority, but in comedy there’s nowhere to hide. If there’s no laughter, you know you’ve failed’.
But comedy isn’t all about laughter, as O’Brien is quick to point out. ‘An inspiration for me is Peep Show – it explores the male psyche through transgressive comedy. It’s important to take on big themes, explore darkness and savagery without being boring. This is what Restrictions May Apply aims to achieve – you bring out shackles and people get nervous. It takes people out of their comfort zone, the way that any sexual comedy used to do. Our boundaries of unease have changed – as with any fetish, we’ve become accustomed to it, and it’s lost its thrill. Vanilla isn’t surprising; and if anything has the responsibility and the remit to still surprise and shock, it’s comedy. So that’s what the whips are for.’ Williams describes the play as this and more: ‘transgressive, horrific…but very funny’. O’Brien is interested in ‘social observation comedy- the way people treat each other. The theme of bondage in the play isn’t just people being chained to beds (though there is that too) – it’s there in other forms, emotional bondage to people. Mark treats Izzie as something belonging to him. Arthur is desperately trying to understand his son, and Lance gets trapped in these odd situations because of his family. The extreme motif of whips and chains brings out something about the demands people have on each other.’
Currently on a year abroad in France, O’Brien has been giving input into script and character through Skype and emails. He claims to trust Williams ‘to a certain extent’ and is ‘very very excited to see what he does with it’. Williams was pleased with what he got: ‘Richard has a very lucid style, he creates characters very vividly, he’s a great humorous writer. And I expected the sexual deviance.’ Williams considers this O’Brien’s best play yet, and it promises bondage, falconry, mistaken identity and most of all, a lot of laughter. Surely enough to justify comedy’s important place in Oxford theatre once and for all.