The Writer production team

There is an uncomfortable paradox in writing a formal review for a play which tears into the theatrical establishment as powerfully as The Writer, which eviscerates commercialism, patriarchy and accepted ideas about form and what makes good theatre. There is a definition of what ‘good theatre’ is implicit in much criticism and directorial decision, and Ella Hickson here drags that into the light for the audience to see it for what it is – a male defined idea of commercially viable naturalism. The personal struggles of the writer with this framework are a microcosm of the structural issues in the relationship between theatre and gender. It is a truism that the personal is political and vice versa, but The Writer is a powerful reminder that the personal is more viscerally political for some more than others, and not by any choice of their own. Hickson’s play is one which is at once impassionedly making a bold political statement and keenly self-aware, an admirable combination which was beautifully executed in this production.

“...grounded in no small part by the exceptional quality of the acting” 

The power of this particular production was not just reliant on Ella Hickson’s words, it was also grounded in no small part by the exceptional quality of the acting. Sol Alberman as the Director oozes a male toxicity that at times provoked a visceral, almost physical, discomfort, without ever even coming close to being the pantomime villain a lesser actor could have made the role. While Alberman’s Director’s toxic masculinity was slick and oily, Jack Medlin’s performance as the Boyfriend through the second ‘scene’ was toxicity in a whole different form; a sad and manipulative man-child, but one who is not a two-dimensional villain per se. Medlin’s Boyfriend was a very well acted personification of a particular kind of insidious masculinity – the sort of straight man who cooks dinner but asks to be thanked for it.   

As well as Medlin and Alberman played their parts, the play belongs to the female members of the cast. The eponymous Writer was played with beautifully wrought emotion by India Lewis. In a play as conceptual as The Writer there is always the danger that the individual feeling is lost amid the sheer size and importance of the ideas at stake. This is an issue Hickson herself was evidently keenly aware of when writing, but there was no risk at any point last night that Lewis would allow the audience to sperate the conceptual rage at the commercialisation and misogyny in theatre (and society at large) from her character’s personal feeling. With remarkable stamina – she was on stage for nearly all of the run time – she took the audience with her through the uncertain, the orgasmic, the purely joyous and intensely painful. Lewis’s Writer was the lynchpin of the production, and her performance maintained the force of the piece throughout. Equally brilliant was Rachel Oyawale as the Girlfriend of the Writer, with an easy but compelling stage presence. Oyawale and Lewis’s scenes had some of the most electric moments of the night, including the sometimes meditative, sometimes manic, movement sequence (the excellent work of Movement Director Jack Ward). The fact the sequence was contained within Hickson’s meta-theatre in which nothing stands on its own did not detract from an ecstatic queer joy with which the sequence crescendoed at its peak. The tender queerness of some of Oyawale and Lewis’s later scenes was touching, though they were not idealistic or lacking in tensions of their own, which this production rightly did not shy away from.


Mountain View

Previewing: ‘Bull’

No less praise is due to the directorial team – Imani Thompson and her ADs Laura Moss and Jack Ward. No directorial decision felt forced or out of place and any deviations from Hickson’s script seemed so natural as to be imperceptible. Furthermore, no cast, even one made up of very talented individuals, can work as cohesively on stage as the cast of The Writer did without attentive and meaningful direction. They, the production team, and the cast, have produced a show that is a very strong contender for the best production that this critic has ever seen in Cambridge; a compelling, political, contemporary piece that anyone who cares about theatre should see.