Drifting Towers

Thu 2nd – Mon 27th August 2018

reviews

Martha Crass

at 01:21 on 6th Aug 2018

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The energy of the cast is one of the first things you notice about this show, despite the initially slow-moving first ten minutes. This first scene featured stilted characters whose movements were restricted to robotic, angular gestures. But when, minutes later, the scene cut to ‘real life’ and we were shown Tobi (Annabel Bolton) and Sam (Bilal Hasna) squabbling over their decisions in what is then established to be a videogame (called ‘Drifting Towers’), the play became instantly more promising.

Once the dichotomy of the videogame and reality emerged, the play began to snap back and forth between the worlds. Our protagonists are the remaining the link anchoring the two together. They navigate the emotional strain of Tobi’s move to university in parallel with the final level of the videogame that it has taken them eight years to reach.

This alternation between worlds was done just frequently enough for the audience to become immersed in the highly energetic, brilliantly choreographed world of the game without it ever becoming tiresome. Every character's movements in this play appeared to have been thought-out, and the synchronisation they demonstrated proved incredible co-ordination between them. It's always fun to watch a tight-knit, slickly-organised group of people enjoy themselves on stage, and that’s exactly what this was. ‘Drifting Towers’ was clearly a well-rehearsed production, adorned with some breakthrough moments of genuine emotion. One moment where Bolton began to break into real laughter as another character was coerced into doing a Björk impression only added to the audience’s engagement with the play, and the cast’s seeming awareness of the audience’s enjoyment allowed them to heighten their acting.

The videogame segments of the show acted as a vehicle for the script to explore elements of absurdism, while remaining in a perfectly plausible context. Lines such as ‘it took us weeks to catch those chickens, and the mayor didn’t even pay us!’ got a laugh. The ensemble members of the cast - Jamie Bisping, Amaya Holman and Tom Nunan - were perhaps one of the best parts of the play; the multitude of characters they played in the game world were undoubtedly exaggerated caricatures, but original ones who were well thought-out and delivered with brilliant comic timing and excellently-observed mannerisms. There were many playful moments throughout which played on computer game tropes, and which were humorous even for those unfamiliar with the references.

While ‘Drifting Towers’ must have been physically draining for those involved, especially during the more prolonged action sequences, it was perfectly easy to enjoy as an audience member.

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Megan Luesley

at 01:56 on 6th Aug 2018

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I love video games. That’s an important clarification to make here, as ‘Drifting Towers’, an original new production devised by Cambridge University Amateur Dramatics Club, often feels like a love letter to the medium. It’s a production saturated with clever little jokes about video game mechanics. But while a lot of the comic moments may rely on a familiarity with the conventions of gaming, there’s still enough raw, often wacky humour, and genuine heart to this production to give it a wider appeal.

The play is split between two worlds. In the real world, best friends Sam (Bilal Hasna) and Tobi (Annabel Bolton) are trying to finish Drifting Towers, a game they’ve been trying to complete for eight years, before Tobi leaves for university. The virtual world of Drifting Towers, however, is a whole different kettle of fish. In this larger than life film noir-esque game, scenes vary from interrogations of French mimes to old people’s homes to jungle tiger lairs as Tobi and Sam jump through bizarre hoops to complete their final mission.

The video game world is quirky, to say the least. There’s the jokes that come from the nature of it being a video game – things like stop-starting background music inexplicably playing in arbitrary places, or enemies loudly announcing when they’re out of ammunition. But the real humour in the game world comes from the ridiculous cast that inhabit it. Every single character, from receptionists to auctioneers, is eccentric - one guy even screams “I love pie!” as he is defeated. This cast (NPCs, to use the proper gaming terminology) is brought to (larger than) life by an ensemble of Jamie Bisping, Amaya Holman and Tom Nunan, an energetic, shameless trio who kept the audience laughing throughout. Occasionally there were very visible attempts to not corpse (especially when one character is built up as being able to do “a very convincing Björk impression”), but overall they deserve to be commended for creating an absurd reality.

The jokes come thick and fast, but ‘Drifting Towers’ is still a show with a sentimental core, as Tobi and Sam each worry about the future of their friendship as they go their separate ways. Bolton and Hasna portray their relationship beautifully. There’s teasing and banter (like Sam joking that Tobi’s boyfriend is so inoffensive that “his favourite food is ready salted crisps”), but also a real chemistry – you could believe a longstanding friendship between them. That said, as the play progressed and explored the relationship further, at some points returning to the slapstick video game felt jarring, even intrusive, when it interrupted the heartfelt moments. Fortunately, this is only towards the end of the show, and for the most part a balance is maintained between the two halves of the production. The plot isn’t especially deep or groundbreaking, but despite being somewhat generic it feels like a charming coming of age story.

Besides the performances, the video game vibes carried into the design of the show – signs as giant, drifting button prompts, pixelated cubes that wouldn’t look out of place in Minecraft (courtesy of set designer Michelle Spielberg) and a chiptune-esque soundtrack (composed by Finlay Stafford) all oozed a love for gaming.

‘Drifting Towers’ is definitely a show that gamers will love. But both as a comedy and a story of friendship, it’s strong enough to be universally entertaining, even if you’ve never touched a controller in your life.

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