The Hen and Chickens Theatre
Performed in the black box of The Hen and Chickens Theatre, we’re instantly transported to Oxford University. The play opens with an older professor, Alfred (Sean Bennett – also the play’s Producer) and his protege professor Bennett (Harry-Jack Robinson) discussing the entry interviews. After many years of using games/interrogation to work out candidates and find a ‘sense of something’ indescribable, Alfred is beginning to dismiss this tradition. His fast approaching retirement and instructions from those above have softened his approach, evident in his grounded reservation. But Bennett is adamant that this is what separates the wheat from the chaff. Harry-Jack speaks with a quick potent tongue and his firm aggression is striking – it is what Alfred has experienced himself and it should continue henceforth.
As current student George (Ben Prudence) speaks to the audience it quickly becomes apparent that he is reflecting in some form of therapy session. Initially laissez-faire, his attitude switches on the discussion of his stepdad Paul’s pub quiz obsession. Aghast at how Paul has gained knowledge from watching…TV… he reaches a crazed level of competitiveness. Insecure, his wide bloodshot eyes let us into his world of high expectation and suicidal thoughts. Prudence’s range is an asset to this production. Does knowledge give George power, or is he crippled by comparison even though he is the cream of the crop?
Alice’s (Alex Gallacher) nervousness at the interviews comes across through her over-eager introduction. She sits in the chair nearest to Alfred as some sort of challenge to his authority – she has heard of the games they play here and starts the cat and mouse chase herself. Applying to read English, she notes that the study of literature is an exploration of ‘the human condition’. Alfred has heard this one before, he scathingly denounces her as a ‘Mouse trapped inside a breadbin’. He wants to see originality of thought, but himself exists in a milieu built from quotation and tradition.
Outside the interview room sits Ben (Callum Chowdury). Arrogant about his specialisms, he bathes in the sound of his own voice. He knows he has made it through the interview process, and he’s right. He is nonchalantly xenophobic about Alice’s Welsh nationality – that the university boxes the Welsh people into a ‘pen’ and sends them all to the same college. But thankfully Ben receives his comeuppance. ‘The Human Condition’ is his answer to Alice’s question about the study of literature – the same response that she was chastised for. Steven Bowyer’s direction at this moment is on the money. Alice steps into Ben’s personal space with confidence, he takes this as a move of flirtation and asks ‘Is this a thing?’ Alice prods him on the nose – ‘No!’ – and leaves the stage.
Though the play provides an intellectually stimulating and fast paced ‘dick-measuring’ contest, I was left feeling slightly emotionally parched after the performance. It would have been appealing to slow down at moments, to ruminate more on how these characters struggle to reinvent the wheel.
Katherine Stockton’s script is brimming with philosophical and literary references which are rife with meaning. But they also manage to make the audience feel the same inadequate feelings some of the characters experience. Performing their knowledge loudly, her characters explore questions of what constitutes literature, the methods for dissemination of knowledge and how far people should be pushed. The overriding argument is that ‘it is not what you get from them, but for them’.
Written and produced by: Katherine Stockton
Directed by: Steven Bowyer
Assistant Production by: Sean Bennett
Colloquium has finished it’s run at Hen and Chickens. For further information see Katherine Stockton’s website here.