A World Elsewhere
Think about the swinging sixties. The era of student protest and copious amounts of drugs being smoked in ratty college dorm rooms. Ladies liberated sexually and students punching the air in protest. It was also the era of half-baked ideas wrapped up in whiny folk music and falseness.
Alan Franks new play A World Elsewhere takes place in a student flat in Oxford, where the lounging Toby tries to impress his friend’s sister Pippa, by helping her brother avoid being sent to prison for stealing books. This ever-so gripping plot is set against the Vietnam War and whether or not their mutual friend Elliot will be conscripted. Unfortunately, the plot is much more interesting on paper then on the stage.
Franks uses his characters as vehicles for weak arguments against the Vietnam War, rather than developing them into fully fledged human beings. I think we can all agree that war is bad and freedom of choice is good, but Franks eggs this point on for a full hour and 14 minutes. Bizarre subplots are introduced and abandoned such as Toby’s northern flat mate Chris and a weak love triangle.
As the foppish public school boy Toby, Steffan Donnelly begins the play with a relaxed coolness, but unfortunately descends into pantomimic wailing. It’s quite hard to see why his character would fall for Sophia Sivan’s plumb voiced Pippa, as her Hermonie Granger style voice means there’s very little sexual chemistry between her and the male leads. Michael Swatton certainly embodies the role of the Midwestern all-American lad, but his performance can sometimes feel like passion by numbers. In contrast, Dan Van Garratt as Chris is genuinely intriguing to watch and it is a shame that Franks keeps sending him off stage, before unceremoniously dismissing him with the wave of a hand.
This production has a few dramatic moments and a sprinkling of humour, but on the whole feels quite dated in its approach. If you fancy taking a trip down memory lane to the old university days, then this play certainly has enough attention to details to induce some flickers of recognition, but there just isn’t enough action to drive the play on the road to success.
Reviewed by Roz Carter
A World Elsewhere plays at Theatre 503 until 15 February 2014.