The drama took place in cosy and very English surroundings – tea-rooms, pubs and bookshops all featured as dramatic settings. Each play explored the theme ‘Written in Oxford,’ allowing for imaginative depictions of the city’s sites and inviting the audience to revel in in-jokes about the ‘Oxford comma’ and the inferiority of the spin-off TV show Lewis to the original Morse. Unsurprisingly, the university featured heavily and several of the plays – Going on a Walking Tour, Academic Progress and Ode - interrogated the so-called town/gown distinction.
Stuart Lee’s Academic Progress was divided into five short acts, which were performed throughout the evening, interspersed with the other plays. Hannah Morrell, who confidently took on several parts, deserves special mention. Morrell demonstrated impressive dexterity as she convincingly portrayed a shy, stuttering bookseller, a homeless person and an American tourist (although my American companion assured me that her West Virginian accent left a lot to be desired).
Paul Exert’s Man with a Plan was particularly memorable, in large part due to actor Alex Babic’s commendable one-man performance of a rail worker with misguided affections. The monologue was littered with comic lines that evoked snorts of laughter – the protagonist at one point assured the audience, ‘I’m not a perve’ – but the ostensibly silly play took a surprising twist towards poignancy, before arriving at its sinister conclusion.
Figures and events from Oxford’s historical past resurfaced throughout the evening. Man on the level crossing portrayed the death of Kenneth Grahame’s son Alistair, while Prometheus Oxoniensis evoked a hot-headed Percy Bysshe Shelley in his college days.
The star performer of the evening was Gwilym Scourfield, whose rendering of a vivacious Kenneth Grahame, Percy Shelley’s hennish porter and a curmudgeonly Gargoyle were a joy to watch.