A World Elsewhere
Alan Franks’s autobiographical account of his time at Oxford University in 1968 receives its world première at Theatre503.
The action opens with literature student Toby (Steffan Sonnelly) and chemist Chris (Dan Van Garrett) in their flat; the air is thick with weed and “The Lonely Death of Hattie Carroll” is playing as they discuss the merits and flaws of Dylan’s work.
English rose Pippa (Sophia Sivan) joins and tells them of the troubles her brother is facing for stealing books. They also talk about Toby’s attempts to stage Coriolanus. American Yale graduate Elliott (Michael Swatton) soon arrives and they talk about the turmoil in America. Then there’s some more talking. There’s an awful lot of talking.
Franks highlights the ability of students to complain but not act; however, A World Elsewhere is not a satire. Instead it points to the air of optimism and changing beliefs of the late 60s—a body hungry for change but ignorant as to how to turn theory into reality.
Perhaps it’s down to my own intellect (or lack of), but for me, this is a remarkably bland, mundane piece.
I read the script on the train home to see if I’d missed anything and noticed the brief introduction, The Way They Were, which details the fascinating events of 1968 from Franks’s perspective. Frustratingly, there is more heart and depth in these four pages than in the entirety of the play itself.
Furthermore, other than Chris—Van Garrett really is very good—the rest of the characters are overwhelmingly irritating. Posh and pretentious Toby and Pippa are in no way likeable or watchable—only children under 10 should ever say ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’. (After recently ending my three years at Warwick, listening to stories of ‘gap yahs’ and ‘daddy’s yacht’, I’ve had my fair share of the gratingly posh and pretentious).
On a more positive note, student living is wonderfully captured in Sarah Booth’s detailed design and it appears that it hasn’t really changed much since the 60s. From the copious books and magazines to the damaged settee and rickety chairs, the essence of student living is brought to life (albeit there were more remnants of alcohol than drugs in my digs).
Sally Knyvette’s nostalgia-laden production will perhaps appeal to students and activists of the time; however, for me, there isn’t much to keep you interested.
Reviewer: Sean Brooks