After spending a few minutes chatting to the rather dashing co-writer and director Doug Grant whilst waiting for the Oxstu reviewer to show up (they didn’t), I was looking forward to seeing Lead Feathers, a piece of new writing that undresses the conflict experienced by conscientious objectors and soldiers in the aftermath of World War I. Lead Feathers is a far cry from Bluebeard, the first production written by Doug Grant and Howard Coase that ran last term. Although it is another one-act play, Bluebeard incorporated the visions and memories of a woman suffering from dementia, whereas Lead Feathers is a period piece that is hard-hitting realism at its best.
Set at a couples’ dinner party at the Law household, it follows the reunion of Charles Law and Robert Blair who had agreed to conscientiously object during World War I until Law turned solider due to family pressures. Strongly influenced by Arthur Miller, imagine ‘All My Sons’ meets Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ and you get a sense of the raw, ‘behind closed doors’ performance that Lead Feathers promises to deliver.
“Let’s take it like a rehearsal”, Grant instructed the actors before they began, and with two out of the four actors still reading off scripts it initially seemed exactly that. However, once James Colenutt and Emily Troup settled into their marital relationship a very natural performance emerged and the emotional intensity of the scene I was shown (near the denouement) was well-delivered, particularly as I didn’t have accumulative tension that a ‘real-time’ performance would have presented by this point.
The relationship between Jane Law (Troup) and Cynthia Blair (Tori Mckenna) was in comparison less believable, although again, this might have been impacted by the presence of scripts. The setting was minimalist (a dinner table and chairs and a bottle of whiskey), which went against the kind of look I would have expected to see in a 1950’s home, particularly as both Troup and Mckenna fashion themselves as 50‘s housewives.
However, overall I enjoyed the preview and it was nice to see Grant and Coase experimenting with a new approach and producing something a bit different to other recent new pieces. With such a small cast and a naturalistic and non-physical staging, very much like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, the success of Lead Feathers will be heavily dependent on the power of its actors. If the rest of the play matches up to the standard of the performance I was shown it would be worth a visit, particularly for students with an interest in wartime history or domestic drama, or for thesps who are looking for something fresh.