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Thursday, June 30, 2022

Fewer Emergencies

Max Seddon 

The problem with experimental theatre is that it’s, well, experimental. You add and take away at random, and you see how it works out. And unfortunately, groundbreaking genius is not always the result. Also, the total lack of characters in Martin Crimp’s play, even at the hands of one of Oxford’s best character actresses, ultimately does Alice Lacey’s production more harm than good here. All we get are some pretty lights and four voices, creating an argumentative, shifting narrative by making grandiloquent pronouncements about the mundane and tugging the "story" back and forth in and out of each others’ control.

Of these four, two are done with aplomb by Charlotte Bayley and Nadira Wallace, members of the burgeoning Oxford ginger actress mafia. Bayley is, for my money, the best of these and one of the best in the university. She is excellent here, sauntering wickedly through the first piece as a woman in a loveless marriage, and an almost teacher-pupil dynamic develops between between her and the other two voices. In a play so static in which the performers are limited to a bare minimum of expression, her turn-of-face, as it were, is exemplary.

Would that the same could be said for Jonny Totman. He pops up in every other play I see these days with varying results, but here I was positively decided. Every word comes out of his mouth in the same shouty, declamatory tone accompanied by a caveman-discovering-fire gaze. Bayley displays better range in seconds than he does through most of the play.

Yet I can’t hold him solely responsible here; Alice Lacey’s casting must take some blame. Bayley seems wasted sitting onstage for long periods doing nothing. Ultimately the biggest problem is Crimp. The play’s forays into Sarah Kane territory are horribly cringe. Gratuitous swearing and kicking chairs over was great fun when I was 9 but having reached the heights of this lofty educational establishment I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect something more profound in our petulant outbursts.

More importantly, even the best moments never create much tension. Neither the tales of bourgeois ennui nor wafts of reference to the Dunblane massacre ever really grabbed me, whichever voice was talking about them. The mood is limp and linear throughout, a tone run home by the extremely annoying Radio Clash murder ballad at the end of the second piece. Minimalism of form is no excuse for a sacrifice of feeling. Ultimately both production and play are more pretentious than portentous and I couldn’t help thinking a bit more meat and potatoes would have been nice. Fewer Emergencies is worth a try, not least on Bayley’s strengths, but it’s really no substitute for characters, plot, and all that jazz. But hey, call me old-fashioned.Dir. Alice Lacey

Burton Taylor, 9.30pm

16-20th October

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