A gory production Viv Wang with permission for Varsity

Taking its name from Jeffrey Nuttall’s 1965 ‘Poems I Want to Forget’, the Pembroke Players’ current offering, a surrealist pastiche of Nuttall’s performance scripts, is anything but forgettable – even if just for the gore. Straight into the surreal, Mark (Joseph Wolffe) – who is really a multiplicity of characters – sits atop an industrial crate, looking out sedately over the audience as the rest of the troop are strewn on the floor. Behind him is a canvas of bedsheets, blood-spattered, replete with the inscriptions of the insane: ‘feeding time’; ‘my golden masthead’; ‘my eyes are not snails’; – wry were it not to be in the context of all that is to come (as the almost twenty content warnings attest). Calm futuristic electronic music plays into New Cellars. It is a static moment in a performance that is anything but. Pierced by loops of spoken word, the bodies then raise themselves. They begin to run. The play is afoot – but to where?

“The play, unified in its bleakness [...] defied both form and understanding”

Created out of a collection of individual scripts performed separately from one another in the 1960s, ‘My Eyes are not Scabs’ has been deftly woven together by directors, Maddy Sanderson and Viv Wang. The play, unified in its bleakness, something to which the poly-artistic anarchist Nuttall was not unfamiliar, defies both form and understanding. Many individual scenes are exceptional, for example, the dissection of the flesh; each actor physically tearing themselves apart, replete with artificial blood, and culminating with a noose of the guts, formed out of prophylactics, used to hang Dod (Charles Wolrige Gordon). Bathos, however, occurs instantly and powerfully as lighting change upturns such a state of affairs; the characters morph, discussing the scene they were just in, not at all the only metatheatrical moment. One never knows where this play is going, and it moves onwards confidently with decisive pace, almost every scene punctuated by spoken word recordings or sound effects performed by Coby O’Brien. Yet even though it accomplishes all this well, there is still room for more – be it energy, pace, audio, or simply acting intensity.

“The play veers too far into absurdity at times”

In addition, the play veers too far into absurdity at times, teetering uncomfortably into farce. It is certainly possible for farce to augment disquiet, agitating by virtue of bewilderment. Joe Wolffe’s Beach-Ball scene accomplished this to great effect. Such an emotional register, however, was held for too long, thereby causing farce which had been used to augment the emotional profundity of the play to become simple absurdity, undermining the tension that had been created – even if, in its own right, it was hysterical. Reverting back into the original emotional register, however, there was an emotional inertia, manifested by certain characters breaking character for an instant – even if it was prompted quite understandably by having to perform the hilariously absurd task of feeding the audience members Laura’s scissored entrails (rather tasty Raspberry Jam I am informed).

“Actors seem unbounded by ethical and emotional norms”

Acting competence was high, but Finn Cullen and Iona Boyer stood out particularly. In a veritably insane play, both actors seemed unbounded by ethical and emotional norms and created a sense of tangible anxiety in moments such as when Syd interrogated three audience members on stage, two of whom would end up in cages. They were also able to create pathos, a particular sentiment which, in such bleakness, was oddly and conspicuously rare. In Iona and Finn’s exposition of love, amidst a surfeit of memorable sentences in the play, the lines, ’love is what you have before you grow up and learn to think’, and ’love is what you knew before you existed’, particularly shone forth.


Mountain View

Gaslight, girlboss, go and see

‘My Eyes are not Scabs’ is an enigma. Even from the name alone – does it mean I myself can trust what I see and, implicitly, you cannot?; is it epistemological? probably political? Potentially like the aborted foetus scene, brought into existence through pain, both physical and visual, ‘My Eyes are not Scabs’ is meant to be that traumatic episode which ought to bring us into political consciousness. In any case, ‘My Eyes are not Scabs’ is the bizarre, experimental, slightly rough, original, ambitious, audacious, and deranged which non-ADC Cambridge Theatre ought to be, and it is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

My Eyes are Not Scabs is showing at Pembroke New Cellars 8-11 November