Living Quarters won the prestigious RSC Marlowe Other PrizeBen Waters

The concept of Living Quarters is one of exciting potential – four twenty-somethings wake up after a night out, unable to remember anything and with a sinister surprise in the cupboard. I won’t reveal what this surprise was for the sake of spoilers. The rest of this darkly comic play follows their attempts to deal with this whilst nursing hangovers. The concept is interesting, and the play enjoyable, but overall I couldn’t help but feel a vague sense of disappointment in the unfulfilled potential that the concept offered.

The script itself was something of a mixed bag – there were some excellent one-liners and some great broad strokes. When the cupboard opened, I felt as though the show was really going to take off. The characterisation in Jamie Rycroft and William Hutton's script was equally sound. Each of the individual characters was well distinguished without descending too much into caricature. Unfortunately, it was lacking in detail, and it left many loose ends for the audience to deal with. Subplots and ticking clocks were established but never completed, and other pieces of information that seemed important were never developed. The whole reason for this surprise was glossed over, the trust issues between the characters were ignored after they had been raised, and the ticking clock of the friend coming round was completely forgotten. There was a clear lack of structural planning that somewhat undermined the story. This aside, it also felt as though the script failed to meet its potential – the attempts to deal with the problem were slightly obvious and lacked comedic originality. Additionally the ending failed to deliver a final comic blow, and instead fizzled out. Having said this, the general dialogue flowed well, and for the most part felt natural and unforced. The characters each had distinct voices, which changed appropriately when talking to different characters. The basic foundations for a good writing style were there.

The acting was generally sound. There weren’t any weak links in the cast, but then it never felt like there was a linchpin actress tying everyone together. Jemma Cleary put in a believable and solid performance as Sandy, Anna Snodgrass was equally balanced as Mel, and Emma Veares’ performance as Chloe was well-characterised. The standout performer for me was Stella Pryce, who seemed to gain the most laughs as the less intelligent character of Flo. She seemed to engage with the script more than the other actors and drew out the comedy between the lines. When constructing a cast, I generally think a strong tactic is to build around one strong actor at the centre. The casting here however, seemed to cast more on an individual level. This meant that the comedy in the script was never fulfilled to its potential, as the chemistry was off-balance. Another issue was that there was a distinct lack of energy; the reaction to opening the cupboard was lacking in energy to the point where they were almost indifferent. Sometimes there were sporadic bursts of energy from each of the actors, but with the chemistry so off-kilter, they were never able to communicate this to the others and drive the show on. I do not intend to criticise the actors much at an individual level, but I think as a group they failed to connect. A little more energy would do wonders for this play.

The direction also had mixed results. One the one hand, the use of the space was very good – the actors filled it well and used every corner of the stage. Often shows can get swallowed by the ADC stage and end up resorting to straight lines, but the blocking here successfully overcame this. Perhaps this was partly because of the crescent shape of the set that gave the directors lots of options to consider. The use of music at the start was also very effective; the first rise of the curtain complete with loud orchestral music is a highly comic moment and set the tone well. On the other hand, the directors seemed to lose track of the script. This is very strange, seeing as the directors were also the writers. It was almost as though they didn’t get their own jokes, as lines that had great comic potential fell flat. Often the delivery of the lines didn’t match the lines themselves, and it seems off that the directors failed to pick up on this. It also felt as though there were missed opportunities with physical gags and the physical humour didn’t quite match the verbal. 

Overall I came away from the play with mixed emotions – a good concept, a deficient plot, sound performances, good blocking but a weak ensemble and interpretation. An injection of energy would plaster over most of these cracks effectively, and I’m sure that by the end of the week the cast will be giving 100%. More importantly, by the end of the week I’m sure the cast will have more idea of how to play the comedy to the audience. It is a show that holds much potential, but perhaps isn’t quite there yet.

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