Corpus Playrooms transformed Kate Austin with permission for Varsity

Jake Stewart has succeeded in something that I am shocked by. His play, The Four Seasons of Tyler Branch, didn’t annoy me. Too often in plays by amateur writers, it is plainly frustrating when darker and often distressing themes such as mental health, assault or suicide are forced into the narrative in what seems to be a rushed, last-minute attempt at a shock twist. These attempts to make a play stick in the mind of an audience member do work, but for all the wrong reasons; too often I have left a piece of student writing bewildered and borderline disgusted at the audacity of the unnecessary interjection of a serious issue that is thrown around with creative carelessness.

The Four Seasons of Tyler Branch, however, instead of filling me with this familiar vexation, tenderly allowed its audience to be taken on an emotional journey through the nuances of grief and masculinity.

“Taken on an emotional journey through the nuances of grief and masculinity”

The play is a domestic tragedy reversed and spliced, and the timeline can sometimes be disorientating to the viewer. However, Lucy Miller’s incredible portrayal allows us to follow the titular character through this plaited narrative. He is sometimes unlikeable, often cruel, but always viscerally human through Miller’s . Miller is supported by a strong but unostentatious cast. The relationship between Tyler and his sister April (Mia Da Costa) was particularly striking, especially as we came to understand the symbols and motifs of grief cleverly scattered through the play’s script. Niamh Howat’s portrayal of Tyler’s childhood friend also stood out, bringing a quiet yet strong contrast to Miller’s erratic characterisation. I found that even in an all-female cast, the themes of masculinity and the ways this can express itself in men were still encouraged to shine through, a testament to both Howat and Miller’s talent.

“Always viscerally human”

Unfortunately, some of the comedic moments fell flat or felt forced, and there were other moments in the script that seemed misunderstood by the action on stage, and vice-versa. The staging was simplistic and its lack of alteration throughout the play contributed to some of the more confusing aspects of the timeline, at times taking away from the powerful chasms of understanding that seemed intentional on Stewart’s part. Nonetheless, the lighting design by Ranjama Ram, with the choice of colour motifs to reflect each season, was very powerful, though the set still felt static even with as Ram manoeuvred us through a visual journey. These colour motifs were still very exciting when allowed to (and excuse the pun) shine through: there was one particularly quick transition which helped catalyse an emotional realisation that I found particularly effective. It is unfortunate however, that so much pressure was placed on the lighting to indicate this journey, especially in the technically limited Corpus Playroom space, and it an iteration where this expressive pressure was spread more across the complete set design would have been interesting to contemplate.

"Tyler Branch is a play of conscious motifs”

Tyler Branch is a play of conscious motifs. Most of them are strong ones, a shy few are not. This is again seen through the sound design choices, with varying levels of subtlety. Eden Mikula does do a commendable job overall, however, and the complete incorporation of lighting and sound is praiseworthy in the confining Corpus Playroom theatre.

Though aspects of the production can still be polished, I believe this production has curated a fantastic basis for a future iteration of Tyler Branch, whether that be in the next production in a more forgiving space, or simply in Stewart’s next creative iteration of the brilliantly weighted emotion the final scene of the play holds.

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