This year the RSC’s Mischief Festival presents a double bill of plays centred around the question: “What is unsayable in the 21st century?” They have created two powerfully creative pieces that combine sincerity, wit and depth to create performances that are entirely thought-provoking.
The first performance titled Earthworks is directed by Artistic Director of the RSC, Erica Whyman. It is set on the evening before the activation of the Large Hadron Collider, where two complete strangers meet and share their experiences of loss and hope. Swedish scientist Fritjof, played by Thomas Magnussen meets pushy and interrogative journalist Clare, played by Lena Kaur. Meeting in a hotel bar, Clare is writing a piece about the LHC and is struggling to find the words due to a lack of understanding of the scientific revelation, therefore attempts to befriend Fritjof in order to enlist his help.
These complete strangers are opposite in character, yet strike an unlikely friendship which escalates even further. Magnussen excels as Fritjof, as he portrays the wooden gait of the character superbly at the start, which is mirrored by his dry humour – his bluntness towards Clare is highly comedic. This is accompanied by Kaur’s excellent depiction of Clare, as she reveals her inner weaknesses hidden beneath her confident exterior.
It’s an absorbing performance that gives an enlightening look into their friendship and how it deepens. As they grow closer and create a striking chemistry with one another, the play has sensitive dialogue and the development of their relationship is compelling. Throughout this, there is an overarching theme of science, and it’s effect on our modern lives. Clare is uncertain as to the significance of this scientific experiment, and these questions are left unanswered, yet she learns so much more. There is a poignant scene in which Fritjof tells her that “light has no mass, but it does have momentum” before introducing her to “slow glass” which takes roughly ten years for light to pass through. Opening her eyes to the magic of science and the powers it holds whilst letting her into his painful past.
The comedy is crafted masterly as the pair’s snappy nature towards one another, and their extreme difference in personality proves to be very amusing. Not to mention the hotel manager played by Rebecca Humphries whose annoyance towards the pair causing a riot in the hotel has the audience in fits of laughter.
There are tender moments between the two that makes the performance so engaging, as their connection is deeply moving. The play is simple yet displays great warmth and I found the balance of comedy and compassion crafted tremendously.
“I can only see wrong choices. Things that will make everything worse.” When Sarah’s boyfriend surprises her by inviting an old friend and her husband to dinner, she is sceptical about this reunion yet puts on a brave face in order to survive the evening. The two couples debate their materialistic lifestyle and the dinner party soon descends into chaos. As Sarah (Rebecca Humphries) and George (Fehinti Balogun) open up their home to the rather stuck up Laura (Lena Kaur) and Tom (Thomas Magnussen), they are faced with a series of debates that end up in a heated argument.
The dinner party is incredibly funny and highly consuming, the character of Sarah is entirely likeable due to her modern thoughts and feelings. Very career driven, she has reached a point in her life whether she is unsure whether to live her life conventionally and settle down to have kids, or continue to power up the career ladder.
Described as “a theatrical experiment into those things we don’t want to see or say,” it is executed exceptionally. The original dinner party is enthralling and presents impeccable comedy timing and witty dialogue. Then as the actors bow and the audience applaud, they rewind and start the piece again, this time the actors are faced with many challenges. With props not being in the right place, lines forgotten and paint and oil starting to emerge from unlikely places, the actors continue to carry on with the performance whilst Sarah questions the happenings and her character descends into hysteria. Sarah takes the distractions very seriously while her castmates choose to overlook them, projecting a deeper message of what she is allowing to pull her focus in life and lose touch with reality.
These problems may be part of the performance or the outside world, but the other three actors appear oblivious, causing Sarah to struggle to make it through the piece despite their strong attempts to keep the performance going.
It’s a potent piece of theatre that is different and boasts extreme innovation in regards to theatrical techniques and ideas as we begin to see the world from her point of view. Described earlier in the play as ‘dramatic’ by her former friend, this becomes clear as we divulge deeper and deeper into her mind as the dinner party continues.
Both pieces are impressive in different ways, as they create a completely commanding evening of theatre that showcases the excellence of new writing.
On until the 17th of June, information and tickets for the Mischief Festival can be found here.