The bones of a good play were there. An ambitious, charismatic incompetent games the system to get ahead. His stuffy PhD supervisor knows what he’s up to but has no incentive to do anything about it, and watches with horror as his charge rises through the ranks on nothing but hot air. Hubris, however, eventually meets ironic nemesis to the satisfaction of all.It was the flesh on those bones that was the problem. The execution was resolutely untheatrical. People mostly sat or stood still and talked to each other – often explaining things that we’d already seen. The inner workings of a grant awarding body are explained in detail for no discernible dramatic purpose, generating unintentional hilarity (‘I’ve highlighted the outliers in orange….’). The whole thing was shamefully under-rehearsed.
Some of the more experienced performers were doing what they could with what they had – Colin Burnie bought tremulous, bewildered dignity to his role as the supervisor, Joseph Kennaway gave lusty life to a boorish Aussie professor, while Robert Spencer had a good stab at physically inhabiting the monstrous central character through a sort of hunched jitteriness.It wasn’t enough, and the tragedy was that the performance defeated the purpose of the exercise. Whatever was being communicated was obscured under a distracting layer of lazy writing, garbled lines and fumbled cues. Purely Academic means well, and this sort of thing is very much worth doing. But if it’s going to catch on, it needs to be done an awful lot better than this.