The term is over, and with the welcome arrival of the generous buckets of mulled wine in the ADC bar, I think back over the term of theatre, and think myself very lucky to be at Cambridge. It really has been quite something. The ADC has put on some surprisingly daring mainshows – Jerry Springer: the Opera notwithstanding, I was delighted to see a Martin McDonagh play get the slot – and the mandatory helpings of  Pinter or Strindberg have felt fresh and not at all perfunctory. Sophocles has been played  straight (Antigone), then contemporised (Cruel and Tender), then put through the postmodern metatheatre grinder (Where three roads meet) in the space of 8 weeks. In Week 6 alone one was able to see a Shakespeare, Berkoff, Eliot or Moliere play, or a wondrous adaptation of the Grimm tales, or an Agatha Christie murder mystery, or a musical about being a fresher. I’ve had a good run myself – I’ve given out two five star reviews, two fours and a three. I swear I’m not a pushover – we’ve just been very lucky.

Let us remember then, that the area we are most lucky in is our new writing. As I have said before I am an unabashed champion of anyone putting up their own work for show, and I have been truly spoilt this term. The ADC lateshow slot has been cracking for new material, what with the astounding  Dandelion Heart (about which I remain evangelical), the  Orphanarium of Erthing Worthing, and last week’s Fierce, not to mention anything at Corpus or the Fitzpat.

But this latest new show, Tamara Micner’s Highlight, got me thinking. I felt it a little with Fierce, as well. I want two scales on which to judge new plays. I can’t in good conscience give out one rating for both the performance and the writing. And even the writing is almost impossible to scale properly. Micner is an ambitious playwright, a recent graduate and has had success in Edinburgh and in Cambridge with her previous play Fantasmagoriana, as well being accepted into the Royal Court young writers programme, aka the conveyor belt for cool, trendy new professional productions. So I can’t review it with the same standards as a first-time play from a fresher. Given the quality of Cambridge theatre, it might be high time we start getting tough on the top end instead of gushing about how talented people are – for these writers, criticism is an essential aid. The star rating system is beginning to irritate me – student theatre is far too diverse for it to be a fair grading system.

All of which is a very long apology for being harsh on a play that the audience loved. Highlight is full to bursting with great one liners, it is sharply acted, and it is tender and fun. You can see a YouTube preview from last year’s Hatch here: "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-5DHPhG7Io". It is also not quite original enough. It is a simple story about a young couple, nice Jewish boy Ed (Nick Harris) and Hispanic Isabel (Charlotte Quinney) in 1979 Vancouver, as they are introduced to each other’s in-laws for the first time. Cue a great deal of ethnic stereotyping. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact. Micner works in the rich tradition of Jewish writers making fun of their own domestic situations, and the figure of uber-Jewish-mother Frida (Jennie Dunne) is a comic creation none the worse for coming straight out of a Jackie Mason routine. Dunne throws up her hands and curses in Yiddish and gets hysterical over kosher with an edgy, toe-curling chutzpah, inadvertently making life hell for her poor son. She is the standout performance, a cliché of a weird depth and believability.

Robbie Aird is a great Chilean dad with fantastic comic timing. His miming to Mozart’s Voi Che Sapete, oblivious to the outside world, was sweet and funny in equal measure, and his chemistry with opposite number Charlie Merriman as they lugubriously drank scotch while the women bickered was understated and fun. The set by Matt Capes, running two dining rooms into one another split by a picket fence and a change in wallpaper, was unobtrusively clever.

The script has a couple of nice gimmicks – the most apparent being the tendency of people to speak their mind very clearly (“I’m intimidated by your house”. “You’re meant to be”.) Luckily this didn’t reappear so often it got wearying, though as a device it didn’t seem to have much justification in an otherwise realistic play. The one liners are indeed good and sometimes charming. (The title of the play comes from a gesture so sweet I might steal it to use on an impressionable girl someday). But smart one-liners only get you so far. The play is collection of domestic clichés apparently taken from the writer’s own experiences of belonging to a Jewish family. And the 1979 setting doesn’t mean much to the rest of us, I feel – there is distinct lack of reasons why this story needed to be told at all. A good rule for writers is write what you know, but there should be an addendum – then mix it up and do something weird with it. Otherwise we see what we have here, where two young lovers decide very slowly to go travelling. The play is far too long for this climax, and has structural issues too – I am rarely aware of how much time has passed, what the actual significance of the previous scene was, and there is much inessential repetition of previous material.

But Micner does understand the craft of playwriting well, and shows a good grasp of tricky stuff like cross-dialogue. But she makes no real attempt to work past the stereotypes she has created, and needs to work out a way of getting real dramatic meat from apparently everyday subjects. I hope she does. This is a fun play to watch, and I hope it gets good audiences, since the production itself is very much a four star one. But Micner has some work to do as she heads out into the big bad playwriting world. I hope she does it – I’m fully expecting a play sauntering back to Cambridge in 5 years’ time with the added hassle of copyright costs.

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