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Not My Cup of Tea
Published on Friday, 10 August 2012
4

4 stars

theSpace on the Mile (venue website)
Theatre
3-4, 6-11, 13-18, 20-25 Aug, 3:05pm-3:55pm
Reviewed by M H Allner

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.
 Recommended for age 14+ only.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Philosophy, wine, hallucinogenic tea and a sound track worthy of Juno or The Boat That Rocked… it’s hard not to enjoy Not My Cup of Tea. Written by Polly Gloss, the play takes darkly witty and acutely cynical look at the life of five privileged graduates, living on a commune based on the anti-capitalist, peace-and-love principles of hippydom. It might sound a little strange, maybe even a tad pretentious – but even as the public-schooled characters ‘reject’ their parents and all traditional societal values for a vision of a free, new, innocent world, their ridiculousness becomes paramount. Here are four delightfully unsympathetic figures, whose attempts to live the Romantic dream send them spiralling down the rabbit hole, and emerging in reality.

I admit it took me a moment or two to find my bearings. Dashing in, just on time, I was instantly doused in the sound of the 70s and as the lights rose, plunged into a philosophical in-joke that nearly flew over my head. Leviathan, discussions of social policy and reform, stirring yet bombastic speeches on the grandeur of homemade wine and homegrown vegetables: all these are present in those befuddling first minutes of the performance. Yet the actors carry them through with clarity and not a hint of shame despite, the ever-growing inner LOL that their voyeuristic audience is beginning to experience.

Set primarily in a single room, with most of the action taking place over the course of a few weeks, the stage emphasises the smallness of the characters and their naive vision. The central irony – that these wealthy young adults have set the commune up using inherited money – is never quite forgotten from those first moments. Nor is the absurdity of ringleader Rolly’s belief in honesty and beauty as the adversary of capitalist deceit.

Neither performance nor script was perfect. It’s a little too clever for its own good at times – though that does transmit perfectly to the blundering, overly earnest characters within the story. And the self-consciousness of that intelligence only exacerbates the wry, dry cynical humour of Victor (Laurence Williams). As the devil’s advocate, Victor’s sardonic commentary on Rolly’s hypocrisy – and through him that of the commune – is a highlight of Gloss’ writing, adding a level of intrigue that other plotlines lacked.

An interesting twist on your average show was the mixed media element. Midway through, a switch from stage to screen occurs, as we witness the peculiar effects Rolly’s tea has on his companions. Accompanied by the more strident songs of the seventies, the film has an analogue quality that makes it seem old and new, the separation from the stage suggesting their disconnection with reality. Unexpected though this shift  may have been, the quality makes up for it; and the shuffling, bleary-eyed Suzy-Anne (Elisha Mansuroglu) who first emerges post-film skilfully brings the action back to the cottage room.

But ‘the drink-me drink, the eat-me cake, the Cheshire cat’s grin’ are dangerous. As the drama increasingly heightens and the storylines flurry in a storm caused by Rolly’s incessant idealism, that cup of tea, that disconnected world, that dream of dreams transforms them all.  Not My Cup of Tea is a charming piece of theatre, endearing its oftentimes pompous themes through a sinister and mordant edge. A must-see this Fringe, for anyone who wants to start thinking.

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