xx

Sat 6th – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Richard Birch

at 22:28 on 10th Aug 2016

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As an exploration of interpersonal relationships and the difficulties of intimacy, 'xx' is an interesting, yet ultimately overly complicated piece of experimental theatre. Determined by an algorithm every night, any actor can give any monologue, or play either of the roles in the dialogues. Describing itself as a play about love, though, leaves the audience a little confused. When jumping from each jarring sketch to sketch, the algorithm concept tending to confuse matters, rather than adding gravitas.

The acting throughout is convincing and enjoyable, adding pathos to each short scene. In particular, Will Spence offers a natural portrayal of a neurotic, nervous and downright weird man who tricks his friend into coming for a party. Upon realising, Owen Mears decides to leave, only for Will Spence to reveal every dark secret of his romantic obsession, ‘I masturbate to photos of you that I get off Facebook.’ Although almost cliché in his introversion, Spence also somehow manages to make the character warm, likeable and ultimately pitiable. Managing comedy and darkness very adroitly, the great shame is that this sketch doesn’t last longer.

Many of the sketches achieve a similar level of poignancy - the problem being that the complexity of the play as a whole robs each sketch of its power. An extended monologue of lambing which descends into a quasi-Platonic discussion of love and bitterness, performed by Will Stevens - though initially sounding illogical and downright bizarre – was actually one of the most profound moments of the entire play. The diction starts scientific, yet turns into a distinctly emotional, personal monologue – a triumph of the play.

Keeping a keen eye out for shared thematic ploys, the motif of the mysterious character in the fountain appears repeatedly and provides the structural resolution to the play. Each character has a separate perspective on the event – one thinks the character is a park Pagan, one a person who has discovered the meaning of life. The reality is far more mundane, yet the interweb of perspectives provides a nice conclusion – human relationships are complicated, transient, and always multi-faceted; yet with a shared core of experience.

If this review has failed to make anything clearer, then don't blame me. This is an excessively complicated play with some genuinely high quality writing; a solid core with an unnecessary gimmick. The play you see will be entirely different to the one I saw – as it says on the introductory sheet, ‘there are trillions of variations’; and it is this very complexity that makes it more difficult to enjoy this often moving exploration of love.

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Caragh Aylett

at 14:43 on 11th Aug 2016

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After 'xx' was recommended to me by a friend I had pretty high expectations, thankfully the Oxford University students did not disappoint. It is a piece which explores love in many different ways. It is constructed of 10 duets and 5 monologues and after each performance the script is run through an algorithm which changes the whole structure of the play– there are 100 trillion combinations. For a performance that is running almost the whole month, it allows the show to remain fresh and exciting, which is beneficial for both the audience and actors.

The writing is interesting and thoughtful. The perhaps clichéed topic of love could have been written in an uninspired way, but it is not. It depicts areas of love about which we rarely talk, of heartbreak, of animal birth, of longing. When it is impossible to link the narratives together, it is always possible to find these themes. Working out the links between the narratives is satisfying but perhaps the piece is worth simply stepping back from and appreciating each scene for what it is rather than seeking to work out a coherent plot.

Indeed, each scene is flawlessly acted and in these small snap shots of love we see intense, realistic chemistry and emotion. While we are only able to see small, abstract pieces it is possible to feel the raw emotion from the actors and to begin to understand the backgrounds of each story. The acting talent of the company is further realised when actors shift into new characters in a different duet.

The use of a simple set in a small space works well and allows the audience to fully focus on the acting. The use of climbing ropes as the only props is simple and effective, and it works especially so in such a small space. It creates abstract settings which suit the abstract nature of the script.

'xx' is an innovative and exciting new piece of theatre. It pushes the boundaries of ‘traditional’ theatre and creates a piece that makes me want to see it again and again.

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