Benedict Clarke plays a brother with a difficult pastEvelina Gumileva

“I think it’s better if you hug the man while you cry over him.” As the Brilliant Adventures team gathered together to kick off their rehearsal with some notes, the impression I eavesdropped was very much in-keeping with what I thought the show was about. This week’s Corpus main show seemed to promise to a tense, gritty drama, in keeping with the fight-call focused publicity that has dominated their Facebook hype-raising. When the rehearsal started properly however, I realised that my expectations had been simplistic; the scenes which I saw rehearsed combined the hilarious with the utterly bizarre; an absurd sequence of events accompanied by excellently realistic dialogue.

The play traces the pain of a family trying to deal with its past (a real world pain that many have felt), and yet does so using the utterly extraordinary concept of time-travel. Strange as it seems, the audience will see that this is in fact the clearest and most direct path to the emotional heart of the play. A similar thing occurs in Jonathan Iceton’s character, who, stripped of his humanity by dark events in his past, is nothing but a distant animal. Incredibly appropriately, and yet very weirdly, he spends much of the play on a leash: a literal animal. This mix of the fundamental with the fantastic is integral to Alistair McDowall’s writing, which aims to get as close to the emotional truth as possible, realism be damned.

Well thought through, innovative, and really very exciting

This is the second consecutive term to feature a play by McDowall, and director Aaron Kilercioglu also worked on Lent’s excellent Pomona (five stars, Varsity). It was through that show that he first encountered the playwright, whom he describes as “accessible but experimental”. Pomona was also a Corpus show, and Kilercioglu stresses the significance of the space in creating a claustrophobic, intense production. Asked whether, had the ADC been open this term, he would have applied there, Kilercioglu allows only that had he, it would have been an entirely different show; telling me that the more he directs, the more he realised the deep significance a space holds for the work being performed there. He praises this term’s line up of quite different and contemporary shows, glad that the shake-up of the ADC has not changed the Playroom’s fringe status. Not only does this allow students room to experiment, it also means that some of the regular ADC audience may be encouraged to see edgier shows than they may usually go for.

Jonathan Iceton spends much of the play on a leashEvelina Gumileva

It was noticeable in the rehearsal I watched that Laura Pujos and Anna Wright were both playing characters with masculine names: Ben and Luke respectively. Kilercioglu explains that the play originally had an all-male cast. He felt, however, that the dynamics between the characters would be made more interesting by changing two of the characters to women. This struck me as an extremely clever decision that will almost certainly yield interesting results in the final production; the dynamic between Pujos and Saville-Ferguson in particular had seemed imbued with gendered tension to the point that it was difficult to me, unfamiliar with the play, to imagine it any other way.

The accent, tangible in the room, showcases implicit power dynamics, both real and expected

This innovation, however, is designed not only to add a different facet to the scenes of the play, but also, Kilercioglu tells me, to counter a trend he has noticed and disliked in much contemporary TV and cinema. Although it is not unusual to encounter a female villain, they are often presented as having a “fatal flaw” while the most damaging aspect of male ones is, if anything, excessive cockiness. This production of Brilliant Adventures subverts this trend, and the expectations it creates in an audience, by showing women effortlessly take on roles written with male actors in mind.

Expectations not only apply to gender, however, but also to location. Brilliant Adventures is set in Middlesborough, where the playwright is from. Kilercioglu explains that while it is portrayed as a bit of a shit-hole, he (who only came to the UK for university and has yet to venture beyond Cambridge and London) was at least able to come at it from a foreign perspective. A British director would have read the script with preconceptions; Kilercioglu, though at first armed with less information, was able to research without prejudice.


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Another stroke of luck came from the fact that Iceton is from nearby Newcastle, and was able to provide extensive accent help to the rest of the cast. Pujos’ Ben, however, is conspicuous on stage for her upper-class London accent. It is, he says, a “very obvious symbol that the person who thinks they’re better than everyone else is from London.” London is often accused of seeing itself as the epicentre of everything, and the accent, tangible in the room, showcases implicit power dynamics, both real and expected.

Brilliant Adventures, the play, seems an excellently written drama, uniting the gritty, absurd, and hilarious. Brilliant Adventures, the Cambridge production, seems all of those thing and more: well thought through, innovative, and really very exciting. When I entered the rehearsal room I knew nothing about it, having left, I am incredibly excited to see it. I cannot but encourage everyone else to see it too

 Brilliant Adventures is on at the Corpus Playroom from 1-5 May

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