What would have happened if only I'd taken that job when I had the chance - or married that person instead of this one? These are the intriguing questions explored in J.M. Barrie's Dear Brutus which is being performed this week at Keble College's O'Reilly Theatre.
The play opens in a country house with an assortment of apparently randomly invited guests engaging in after-dinner conversation. As the evening progresses, flaws are exposed, tensions rise and each character is led to question whether they might have been a better or a happier person if their life had taken a different direction.
As the saying goes, "be careful what you wish for". This is no ordinary country house; their host, the mysterious Mr Lob, is no ordinary old gentleman and tonight, being Midsummer's Eve, is no ordinary night. Before morning, all but one of the guests will have spent time in a magical wood living their alternative lives.
Although Dear Brutus borrows elements from A Midsummer Night's Dream and plays with time in a way that hints of the work of later writers such as J.B. Priestly, it is essentially a serious and occasionally disturbing piece about human nature.
This student production features a number of good performances – notably Meg Harrington as Joanna Trout, Daniel Thompson as Mr Purdie and Patrick Orme as the androgynous, Puck-like Mr Lob. At the press preview, it was occasionally difficult to hear some of the female actors and the opening mood music competed a little too heavily with Mati Warner's scene-setting introduction, but these are easily remedied.
The staging is simple but effective and the piece works well in the intimate setting of the O'Reilly.
Dear Brutus is a fascinating play that's rarely performed and deserves to be better known. Director Alexia Kirk and the team are to be congratulated for bringing it to the stage in its centenary year.