|Boats and bowties - Friday 1 June|
|Published on Friday, 01 June 2012|
After a misguided mission to use up all perishable items in the fridge – threatening to result in a bout of food poisoning – and a disconcerting digital display that couldn’t make up its mind if the train I had boarded was actually going to Oxford or Harborough (wherever that may be), I arrived in Oxford with a sense of satisfaction. It’s a kind of pleasure which only the truly inept can derive from getting on the right train and making a breakfast that does not require hospitalisation.
In a welcome contrast to London’s pre-Olympic frenzy, the city of Oxford is green, pleasant, and boasts an abnormally high bowtie-per-capita ratio, which cannot all be explained by Matt Smith. It’s a quick and awesome sandwich from The Alternative Tuck Shop (which far surpasses my still-disturbing breakfast) and straight off to see my first two shows. It seems the students are on their way to exams today… but rather than interrogating them at their moment of trauma, I make a mental note to ask an Oxford type ‘hey, what’s with all the carnations?’
A comparative trek from the centre of Oxford, Lady Margaret Hall is home to the Simpkins Lee Theatre. Far from your average black box fringe space, it’s high-ceilinged and airy, and should probably play host to constant productions of The Importance of Being Earnest and The Cherry Orchard. Instead, tonight there is a one-woman show set on a hotel boat, and sketch comedy from a local double act.
Memories of Water
Memories of Water tells the story of the seemingly unassuming Pauline, who – when she allows herself to be talked into taking a canal holiday – is forced to confront the painful memories of her past, and forge a new future from the wreckage.
Performing her own script, Kate Saffin is natural and secure in her character. Her warm portrayal of Pauline allows the audience to laugh at her fusty foibles, whilst showing the world through her eyes, creating a genuine affection for the central character. Many of the supporting characters, also played by Saffin, are given neat characterisation, providing the audience with strong images to create the world around Pauline.
With a character that tends towards the passive driving the onstage action, director Moya Hughes would have done well to keep on top of the pacing and cut down on the extraneous moments of inaction. At only 50 minutes long, the piece could still benefit from a firmer hand when it comes to trimming pauses, and injecting a livelier pace to the dialogue scenes. The overlong scene changes involving exits and entrances in seemed unnecessary. With minimal set changes required, it would improve the flow of the action to dispense with the blackouts altogether and simply incorporate them into the scenes.
The Simpkins Lee Theatre’s relatively large stage provides a challenge to a play that sees the majority of the action played out in closer quarters. The show would benefit from a clearer sense of the layout of the boat, limiting the tendency to ‘use the whole space’ unnecessarily. With greater attention to detail creating a real idea of place, particularly when moving from the expanse of the railway station to the cosy confines of the hotel boat bedroom, there is the possibility of building something really interesting here.
Told with great affection and enthusiasm, Pauline’s story is engaging, her quiet resolve uniting the audience behind her in her confrontation of her secret past. Whilst the plot is not daringly original, the likeable characters and refreshing lack of sentimentality makes for a pleasing and uplifting tale of quiet bravery eventually winning out.
Getting Away With It
Getting Away With It takes a lighthearted look at middle class life through a series of two-handed sketches from double-act Mosby and Gomm, touching variously on telephone surveys, the Archers, and fish that nibble your feet.
Aiming for gentle humour rather than cutting-edge originality, the pair have created some loveable characters. They successfully charmed the audience as they cheated at tai chi and competed in a ‘my house is dirtier than your house’ self-deprecation contest.
Helen Mosby and Alison Gomm are well-matched and nicely in synch throughout the show. Tending towards strong characterisation rather than quickfire punchlines, the script is pleasing and offers the odd surprise.
While the pace was unashamedly gentle, the show could aim for less dead time between sketches. Though far from outrageous, Mosby and Gomm are highly watchable and should be persuaded to ditch the extraneous props that slow the transformation between sketches.
Primarily at home with the more timeless characters, some contemporary references are already a little past their best. All in all, Mosby and Gomm’s material isn’t groundbreaking, but their enthusiastic and genuinely warm portrayal of their characters makes for an agreeable hour.
So ends my first evening at the Oxford Fringe. Tomorrow I plan to pack in a bit of exploring before heading to my first show… so here’s hoping the rain holds off.
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FROM OUR ARCHIVES
These are archived reviews of shows from Oxfringe 2012. We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.