I don’t normally write reviews, but this was so good I felt I had to. And the director definitely didn’t ask me.
The audience of Kian Moghaddas’ A Poet and a Scholar was in hysterics pretty much the entire way through. The play centres around Nico (Ethan Bareham), a restrained scholarly type given to reading books upside-down and presumably familiar to many Oxford students. But it’s his addiction to museums that leads his housemates Eli (exuberant, flamboyant and without filter, played to perfection by Aymen Aulaiwi) and Sam (drug addict given to snorting lines with the morning coffee and talking to herself, played by Kay Kassanda) to stage an intervention and lock him in the flat.
The set is decked out like a museum: when we walk into the Pilch there are paintings hanging on the walls with amusing descriptions, including one of Bareham himself (which, during the show, he steals as a present for Eli, claiming it looks ‘nothing like him’) and a printed photo of Bruce Forsyth, for a reason that remains unknown throughout the show, except to have his ‘sexiness’ commented on by one of Nico’s fellow museum-goers (Anna McKay).
The premise of the play is simple but paves the way for hilarity. A security guard (Fabian Bourdeaux) catches Nico stealing the painting (of himself) and attempts to steal it back from him. Nico escapes his enforced incarceration by means of a neighbour’s spare key, retrieved by the aid of his parents (Chess Nightingale and Warwick Wagner), who make a fantastic pair, the mother as the overbearing yoga-obsessed type and the ‘teetotal’ father who couldn’t really care less about anything going on around him.
A key feature of the play is a pattern of frequent blackouts during scene changes, as we move between the flat and the museum. During these changes, a pre-recorded podcast plays, introduced by its hosts as ‘Born This Gay: London’s leading gay podcast, except for all the others.’ These hosts are Eli himself and his friend Edison (Luna Arthur), who should be commended on his marvellous Welsh accent. Eli is open, Edison more reserved, and innuendos abound. It was an absolute treat to listen to, and a skilful way of avoiding losing the audience during the blackouts. In fact, the blackouts had a soundscape in themselves, ranging from snickering to full on hysterics. I spoke to a friend who admitted they ‘nearly passed out’ from laughter.In what is perhaps an inevitable conclusion, Nico and his housemates agree on a compromise in order to heal their simmering living situation: they go on the proper kind of museum trip: one on acid. This was where I thought things tipped slightly over into the absurd — all of a sudden Nico gets hit by a car (or, for Eli’s drugged mind, an orangutan with a number plate). However, the actors were clearly given free license to more or less do whatever they wanted during this scene, and their energy was infectious. At the play’s end, the Pilch still resounded with people’s laughter, and I was left with no doubts that Kian’s play will be a hit at the Brasenose arts week, where it is headed next, before the Edinburgh fringe under its new name: The Museum Trip.