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OUDS New Writing Festival 2012

Four new plays compete for title Best New Writing 2012.
Burton Taylor Studio, Tue February 28th - Sat March 3rd 2012

March 1, 2012

The Tulip Tree
Oliver Michell

A very interesting peek into the early life of Enoch Powell, following the now well-established dramatic interest in characters who are intellectually brilliant but socially handicapped (e.g. the new BBC Sherlock, House, or the Dr Reid character in Criminal Minds). Here we see Powell in his 30s, already outstanding at whatever he turned his mind to – full professor of Ancient Greek at age 25, a war-time trajectory from private soldier to the youngest Brigadier in the British Army, published poet, on the brink of his political career – spending a weekend at an unnamed country house in order to hunt. Powell has fallen in love with the daughter of the house, the beautiful and lissome Barbara (an icon worthy of a Betjeman poem), and is unaware that he has a rival in one of his fellow-guests, the rambunctious, opinionated, infantile but fundamentally good-humoured Paul.

The plot turns on how Powell sees himself, as opposed to how he comes across to other people. He’s something of a square peg – didn’t go to public school, doesn’t know how to tie a bow-tie – but Paul and his close friend Edward, after some initial teasing and bullying, seem remarkably accepting of the odd, proud, egotistical, nervous, intense Powell, though Barbara’s parents don’t care for him very much. Edward attempts to advise him that his gift for Barbara (a copy of his own edition of Herodotus, in Greek) is weird and inappropriate, but he can’t see it. He equally can’t grasp why Barbara would prefer Paul, a bear of little brain, to his brilliant, tormented self, until a devastating éclaircissement in the final scene puts the matter beyond doubt. The play suggests that this inability to empathize, to predict what his fellow-humans will think and feel, was responsible for his effective sabotage of his own political career with his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968.

Using brilliantly selected quotes from Powell’s own poems, the writer portrays a highly intelligent, complex man, capable simultaneously of celebrating his own brilliance, and profoundly wishing he had been killed in the war (these are genuine quotes from Powell) – someone who ultimately was not a reptilian political animal but a man of principle both too self-involved and too unbending to come out on top in the murky swamp of Westminster. Strong and subtle writing, competent performances from likeable young chaps. Get in there quick though – the tiny Burton-Taylor was packed last night and I heard the words sold out at the weekend.

February 29, 2012

by Rob Williams

The first offering from finalists in this year’s OUDS New Writing Festival was Antarctica by Rob Williams, who’s studying Classics and English at Balliol.

The play opens with husband and wife Simon and Cath staring unhappily into space before breaking into a bad tempered spat over a dish of distinctly unappetising porridge. The back story is that they are the owners of a half built hotel which is buried under snow, somewhere at the bottom of the Earth. Enter Johnny, a mysterious stranger.

As mysterious strangers go, Johnny takes some beating. He has a taste for meat pies (shades of Sweeney Todd), has travelled millions of miles to reach the hotel (an angel?), is fantastically rich and is, by turns, amusing and sinister (ok, maybe not an angel).  At the beginning of the play, Simon recalls a vivid dream from the previous night; as the play reaches its climax, Johnny re-enacts part of the dream, but by this time it has become a nightmare.

Speaking to Daily Information, writer Rob Williams explained that the idea for the Antarctica came out of his experience of living in Bolivia where he saw at first hand the chasm between the Third World (the hotel) and the First World (Johnny).  Although this didn’t quite come across in the play, it was still a piece of coherent drama about power and powerlessness. Williams has a great gift for language and characterisation which were brought to fruition in strong  performances from Simon Davenport (Johnny), Phil Judd (Simon), Ellie Geldard (Cath) and Bess Roche (Lucy, Simon and Cath’s daughter) displayed these to dramatic effect.

Antarctica is on again on Thursday and Saturday (1st and 6th March) and is well worth seeing, even if you’re not entirely sure what it’s about.


Meera Syal, Visiting Cameron Mackintosh Professor had this to say regarding the four pieces she read:

"Can I start by saying that I was really impressed with the standard of entries, I know everyone always says that to make the entrants feel better but actually, this time it’s true. What cheers me most is that each writer has their own distinct voice, finding your theatrical persona and tone is the hardest first hurdle for any budding dramatist. And all four writers have already cracked that one. So I needn’t to say to any of them, Simon Cowell-like, “Don’t give up the day job..”, rather I would say to all four, keep writing with as much verve and passion as you have shown here. It’s a muscle like any other and only gets stronger and more defined with exercise."

Meera awarded the New Writing Prize to Oliver Michell for his play The Tulip Tree. Congratulations, Oliver, you have won £150 from the Cameron Mackintosh Drama Fund. She also gave a special commendation to Leela Velautham for her play, Schrodinger's Hat.

Iqbal Khan, director of Snookered, and this summer's Much Ado with Meera, judged the Best Production, watching all four entries back to back on Saturday. In the evening he spoke warmly of the day and the standard of entries before awarding his prize to Benedict Cohen's production of Rubber Dinghy by Kelvin Fawdrey.

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