Sometimes you have to look beyond the show in front of you to fully appreciate it. That can surely not be truer than for Ardent Theatre‘s Beyond Ourselves. Because in understanding what has led these eight actors to this moment helps elevate their work from an amusing play within a play to something greater; something filled with emotion and a hope that all is not lost.
So what is that background? Ardent Theatre take eight recent drama graduates, all from outside of London, and attempt to give them a taste of the professional life. As part of that they come to London to perform and experience the joy of a paying audience. The socialist in me loves them for that, because what we don’t need is to see the stage trod by yet more people who haven’t had to struggle just to get that first real chance; who didn’t have to slave away in dead end jobs to get by whilst dreaming of the chance to be seen; and to be given opportunity.
But of course, the critic in me also needs to be fair and actually review the production as much as the concept. Thankfully it is equally worthy of praise. Although, let’s be honest, I’m already fully invested in it even before I’ve taken my seat!
It’s all rather meta as the performers meet in an derelict building (no doubt run down by more Tory cuts) to create their show. They have no script, they don’t have a plot: all they have is ‘a moment’. But from that moment everything grows. As they argue and debate what the play should be, they express their individual fears, alongside the general consensus that the odds are stacked against them, none of them having been born with a silver spoon in their mouth. You do get the distinct feeling that they have experienced more than their fair share of knock-backs, perhaps perfectly explained by Annabel Worsfold when she talks about her job as a carer and how at the end of each month all she has left of her wages is twenty-five pounds, but “the job I want… doesn’t seem to encourage people like me.” It would be easy to get cynical about it all, and perhaps once or twice the show lays this concept on a little thickly. But then again, all eight actors know very little other than 13 years of Tory attacks on the arts, so they probably have a right to feel downbeat about it all.
There’s plenty of amusing and knowing nods to the structure of a play, which is probably testament to their drama studies. The early mention of needing a surprise at page 37 of course results in said surprise happening, and a fresh burst of energy from India Pignatiello, who dreams of nothing other than being in Eastenders!
Ardent clearly pick their students well, with all eight justifying their places in a carefully created mix – or maybe that’s down to fine acting? And whilst each deserves a mention (and all will be mentioned in the credits below) Thomas O’Neill‘s cynical dissenter and Callum Diaz‘s slightly dim but loveable fool do steal some of the best laughs.
Beyond Ourselves is a reminder that the Tories have done immeasurable damage to our arts. But it’s also a reminder that even after 13 years of cuts and attacks on everything we love, there is still hope, that all we each need is a moment, a spark, and then maybe that spotlight will still shine brightly on us. Ardent are everything that is important and vital about the arts, and long may they bring such wonderful and thoughtful shows to London.
The full ensemble are: Jake Rayner Blair, Eddie Drummond, Caoimhe Mackin, India Pignatiello, Callum Diaz, Danielle Laurence, Thoma O’Neill, Annabel Worsfold
Written and directed by: Andrew Muir
Stage managed by: Chloe Brown
Lighting design by: Charlie Speck
Produced by: Ardent Theatre Company
Beyond Ourselves plays at The Union Theatre until 11 November. Further information and bookings can be found here. The show is also scheduled to play Poole’s Lighthouse 13 March 2024.