‘Some things are long and drawn out. Others happen so quickly,’ states writer and director Benedict Churchus. It is this notion of contradiction that drives The Reserve, the first piece of original student drama of the academic year from Watch This. Throughout the performance the characters, and the audience alike, are batted to-and-fro between truth and façade, the trivial and the valuable, the relatable and the absurd, and the result is an honest and accurate portrayal of the complexity of youthful experience.
the result is an honest and accurate portrayal of the complexity of youthful experience.
The performance begins with a double-entendre: a lad talks about catching crabs on a Saturday afternoon. This introduces the drama’s primary concerns with perception, understanding and interpretation. The audience are required to be active spectators, responsible for seeing the bigger picture at play here, unlike this young male, who can see no wrong in poisoning crabs for fun.
The Reserve is not so much a play as a sequence of monologues, with the first being Alice Williams’ performance, entitled ‘We are going to have a party’. Her character is someone we all know: the popular girl at school who wears a lot of make-up, drinks Smirnoff Ice and drives everyone to ‘Maccys’ at break time. Parties repeatedly tells us that she is ‘fierce’, but her frightful instability raises concern with a society that praises attraction and confidence over intelligence and authenticity.
Un-education (Matt Johnson) is surprisingly level-headed for a 17-year-old who has had an affair with and older woman. He demonstrates an awareness of the falsity in ideal forms of love. ‘Affairs are not me reciting poetry into your ear whilst eating a magnum,’ he says, ‘although we did go to London once and I had a twister on the way back.’ It is his lover who we are more concerned for who, unlike Un-education, is forced to address the repercussions of her adultery.
Next up is I love Harry Styles and, like her object of affection, she is the star of this show.
Next up is I love Harry Styles and, like her object of affection, she is the star of this show. Katie Peterson gives us a delightfully cutesy and wildly funny depiction of a young girl’s first celebrity crush. This section is also the best example of Churchus’ brilliant use of dramatic irony, using kicked cats and bushes to pose worrisome questions about society’s unhealthy obsession with social media and celebrities.
The Oxpecker monologue begins a descent into a more openly sombre tone. The details of a rapidly blossoming, romantic relationship are juxtaposed with Ciaran Creswell’s unrushed and gentle delivery: he paces less and commands the room from a small, white stool, and is a delight to watch. The monologue nicely amalgamates the theme of getting carried away with the unimportant that has thus far been threaded through the piece.
Affluenza concludes the performance like a closing paragraph of a well-structured essay, by bringing together each of the characters in terms of social anxiety and their dogged pursuit of something more. Catherine Roberts’ emotional performance, in discussing affluenza in terms of the law, is powerful, and forces the audience to question their empathy with each character, as well as the validity of this psychological condition as a form of defence in the real-world.
What is less successful, however, is the attempt to connect the characters literally, as well as figuratively, as part of this incident, the use of the screen at the end of the performance does little except reiterate a point that Roberts has already made so compellingly, and as a result the performance seems to peak and then fall a little flat. This is, however, a small complaint in a production that otherwise finds words for complex ideologies with success and poignancy.
If given the opportunity to see this production in the future, then do so – without reservation.
Churches is an impressive, witty and ambitious writer and the cast give strong performances. If given the opportunity to see this production in the future, then do so – without reservation.