"The premise behind each character sounds pretty good on paper"Alex PC

Upon arriving at the Corpus Playroom, the first thing that struck me was the wonderfully detailed set that has been put together for this show. Tables and cabinets were laden with crystals, candles, books, wine bottles and a large cauldron, while art postcards and a single Merlin poster adorned the walls. This created a fantastic sense of place and added some real polish to the production, as well as instantly transporting me to the bedroom of every humanities student I’ve ever known (large cauldron aside). Rather than being distracting – as is the risk with such a complex and busy set – this actually married rather well with the intimate setting of the Corpus Playroom and created a pleasantly cosy atmosphere before the play even started.

“The show was generally fun to watch, containing many lovely comedic moments”

The play itself follows the story of three friends who have taken up witchcraft and formed a coven, as they summon a demon and then spend the rest of the play doing their utmost to un-summon him. The show was generally fun to watch, containing many lovely comedic moments and great pieces of writing. In fact, the only real issue I had with it was the characterisation of the three main characters, and in particular the dialogue between them.

The premise behind each character sounds pretty good on paper: Margaret (Emily Gibson) is the bossy and aspirational head of the coven, Emily (Isabel Burns) is the sarcastic and unenthusiastic non-believer and Lawrence (Oscar Matthews) is, well, your classic lovable idiot. These one-dimensional tropes would have been fit for purpose in more minor roles (I’d love to see, for example, a production of Macbeth featuring these three… somebody should really get on that). However, after a whole hour of Margaret’s selfish self-aggrandizing, Emily’s constant eye-rolling sarcasm, and Lawrence’s general arsing about, it all began to get a little trying. I’m not saying that characters have to be likeable to be funny, but when they become irritating to the audience as well as to each other something has clearly gone wrong.

This extreme and unrelenting characterisation also somewhat curtailed any potential chemistry between the three – for characters who we are supposed to believe have been friends for years, the tension in their interactions ended up detracting from the humour and made some scenes downright unpleasant to watch.

This awkwardness, which overshadowed the first twenty minutes or so of the play, was greatly assuaged by the entrance of a demon called Graham (Saul Bailey). This character was – in many ways – the saving grace of the show. Clad in an artfully awful shirt and tie combo, a tweed jacket and – oh yes, a pair of comedy devil-horns, Graham is less the dreadful demon and more the meek middle-manager. The concept of a crafty but not particularly evil demon who is more interested in causing minor inconveniences than spreading chaos and disaster has plenty of comic potential which was thoroughly exploited – Graham claimed to be responsible for a variety of ills including spam emails, gluten intolerance, supermarket membership cards and the fact that cats never come to you when you go “pspspspspsps” at them. Bailey ended up delivering most of the play’s really good lines, and did so fantastically.

In fact, the acting was pretty great overall. Gibson employed a brilliant ‘witchy voice’ for Margaret’s more dramatic moments, and occasionally used gesture and facial expression to elevate her performance to great heights. Burns and Matthews similarly managed to keep the energy of their performances up throughout the show, and Matthews in particular brought some great elements of physical comedy to his role.

“There are some truly fantastic jokes – the kind that catch you off guard”

As mentioned, this play is first and foremost a comedy. It appears to have been the sole aim of the writer (Barnaby M. Evans) to create something that would make people laugh, and I truly respect that he resisted the temptation to overcomplicate. There are some truly fantastic jokes – the kind that catch you off guard and elicit a single, sonorous “HA” from the audience. Having said this, such moments of brilliance were sadly small oases scattered throughout a barren desert of drawn-out, bickering dialogue and running jokes which deserve to have their feet cut off. Okay, perhaps I’m being a little harsh. All this play really needed to be worthy of its wonderfully promising concept was more jokes, more action, and less mention of the lost property bin. These are my three wishes for this production.


Mountain View

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No, wait. That’s genies.

The Coven is playing at 9:30pm at the Corpus Playroom until Saturday the 12th of February.