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“A Brilliant Balancing Act”: A Review of By Proxy

Laura Brink reviews 'By Proxy' by Imee Marriott

When one hears that a play is going to heavily feature social media and pop culture references, one instinctively prepares to cringe. In By Proxy, however, writer and director Imee Marriott has skillfully crafted a show that feels authentically in tune with modern life. This one-act, hour-long firecracker of a piece opens with a hilariously ice-breaking scene, introducing its main characters, the teenagers Kit (Edie Critchley) and Jo (Maisie Lambert). They play Just Dance and banter over such far-ranging topics as Nelson Mandela teabags, Jo’s new love interest, and Pedro Pascal, setting the tone for the fast-paced, convincingly-acted dialogue that will characterise the play to come. 

By Proxy follows Kit and Jo as they progress from this pair of high school best friends into young women, going to university and making decisions for themselves as their lives drift apart. Most impressive is the writing’s clever development, showing how Kit and Jo’s relationship dynamic switches ominously as Kit comes into her own at university and Jo seems to just keep slipping. It is equal parts devastating and fascinating to watch their intimacy gradually wane, as the pair begin to communicate more and more indirectly via phone calls, voice notes and eventually a radio broadcast — hence the title, By Proxy

This play really utilises technical effects to incorporate social media into the story, the sound design and projections (Will Wilson) and lighting (Maxi Grindley) pull together to show us the girls’ texts, BeReals, and Instagram accounts in ways that effectively supplement our understanding of the characters and their world. For all the technical brilliance of the show, the most hard-hitting scene is a monologue in which Jo records a voice note to Kit: stripped back, vulnerable, and bursting with emotional truth, this is a stand-out achievement by Lambert.

Critchley and Lambert’s chemistry furthermore captivates as they manage to deftly capture the nuances of Kit and Jo’s friendship throughout their performance: their attraction, resentment, dependence, love, and disgust towards each other all twisting together deliciously. They bounce off each other so well, in fact, that in the one scene we see another character on stage, Marcia (Susie Weidmann), her character seems slightly cartoonish in her characterisation and relative lack of depth. Marcia is, however, crucial to the storyline, highlighting another of the play’s virtues: it is a rare student play that is both artistically convincing and boasts a plot. Not much can be said of this plot without ruining the writing’s delicately slow reveal of the truth, but it is worth checking the play’s trigger warnings before attending, and preparing yourself for heartbreak. 

By Proxy is shocking, morally complicated, and will have you frustrated, yet empathetic towards both Kit and Jo. It is also hysterically funny, with witty dialogue and inside jokes that will appeal to the Oxford student. By Proxy is a brilliant balancing act that engages at every turn.

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