Perfectly Public

Sun 21st – Sat 27th August 2011

reviews

Jade Symons

at 23:33 on 24th Aug 2011

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“Perfectly Public” left me more than a little confused - I felt as though I’d watched two different plays, of entirely different standards.

Parts of the production - namely the comedic, stereotype-strewn routines, showcased the (not inconsiderable) talents of the cast, with wickedly funny lines and vigorous action. However, the other side of the play was, to be frank, pretty dire, and let the excellence of the other scenes down. The word I’d use to describe these sections (which showed a production company making a film about private school) is “messy”. It was mostly unclear, without glancing at the information leaflet, exactly what was going on.

The show originally began as a sketch, presumably featuring the overtly and amusingly stereotyped public-school characters. I strongly suspect that the performance would have been far more enjoyable, had it retained this original, shorter form.

The scriptwriters had clearly tried to inject comedy into the messy “production company” scenes, in the form of swear words. However, this tended to shock rather than amuse - even I baulked at some of the linguistic choices (and as a prolific user of profanities, I’m not easily offended).

Another concern was that the audience, had they not experienced the ultra-privileged private school “bubble”, would have found much of the humour going straight over their heads. However, if they’d had any interaction at all with that world, they’d find themselves grinning and nodding knowingly at much of the play.

Credit must go to the talented Sam Scott and James Thomson, for the wonderfully creative and original songs that cropped up throughout the piece. Delivered with verve and enthusiasm by the whole cast, they definitely provided the stand-out moments of the performance.

Some of the stereotyping could have potentially struck a nerve (or five) with some audience members, but redemption came from the knowledge that the actors themselves are “products of the private school system”, revealing the self-aware and self-mocking nature of the performance.

In its current form, the play contained moments both fantastically funny, and intensely boring. However, I would be excited to see the cast performing a series of shorter sketches, as it was clear from parts of the show that this is the field in which their undeniable talents lie.

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Xandra Burns

at 09:24 on 25th Aug 2011

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Perfectly Public is set in a perfectly suitable space: a black platform for a stage, no set, an electric keyboard on the side, audience members seated in small tables around the room, a bar tucked in the back corner. The actors jump right into the opening number, a chipper tune sung by public school kids listing the stereotypes they represent with satirical smiles. As an American with little knowledge of the British school system I can comprehend the humor for the most part, because similar stereotypes exist in American culture and because it’s the kind of humor that makes you want to laugh to show that you understand the references even if you don’t - a concept that fits in nicely with the superficial in-crowd sense of belonging on which the play comments.

The actors work together in a tight ensemble with fluid interaction, excellent comedic timing, and clear commitment to numerous characters each. Female actors play rugby boys and male actors play vapid women and it works without being over the top.

At first it seems as if the play is going to be a series of general sketches that loosely tie together, cracking jokes at the elite along the way. It proves to be more complicated, however, as a few characters recur and develop. For a play under 45 minutes long, this shift to a more lasting plot arrives too late. The main storyline, that of the documentary film production team, is introduced so quickly and unexpectedly that it is challenging to determine who’s who, who’s important to remember, and on many occasions, how old each character is. Considering just how many roles are included, the actors distinguish them well, but the main characters remain underdeveloped.

The play tries to be sketch comedy while also advancing a plot and relaying a moral, and it rushes to stuff all of these elements together. The sketches are entertaining enough on their own, and while there is potential in the writers’ search for deeper meaning, it isn’t quite reached.

All of the songs are entertaining additions to the show, with Lottie’s solo standing out for conveying her personal experiences, struggles, and the fact that she had no outlet in which to express them. The writers take advantage of how song is an appropriate medium for communicating the fakeness of public school: it represents the expectation to sing a school’s praises and how this praise is repeated until it becomes refrain.

The play sums up satisfactorily, complete with a brief epilogue and acknowledgement of the moral of the story, a message that would have been more powerful if it were developed rather than stated. Perfectly Public tries to be more than just funny, and in some places succeeds, but in many others is too confusing and abrupt to interpret.

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