Theatre Review // Sylvia

[email protected], Stage One.

Wednesday 24th October 2012

Sylvia by Leeds University Theatre Group (TG); directed by Caitlin Pinner.

It was a winterish Wednesday night as I snuggled down in Stage One for the eagerly awaited first TG production of the year. As it was my first experience of a TG play - a play for which I myself had auditioned and had received my first TG recall, I had high expectations. Plonked in my aisle seat, I surveyed the set, an intimate space that had an air of the American sitcom about it. I must say, I was slightly confused as to where the play was set, as the silhouette skyline flats weren’t giving anything away, and knowing the text vaguely, I was sure it was set in New York. However, Caitlin made the (in my opinion, wise) decision to bring the production far closer to home, and set it in London. In doing this, it was much easier for us to relate to the characters;  to see Greg as a beaten down city slicker, ‘tired of London, tired of life,’ Kate as an careerist, determined to make a difference in E81 (the kind of girl who certainly wouldn’t make eye contact on the tube) and to relate to Phyllis as the epitome of an ageing Sloane, (someone who would never admit to getting the tube darling.)

 The style of the production leant itself to the sitcom genre, with musical intermissions where (the majority of the time) the actors were successful in maintaining character whilst moving the set around together. These intermissions were effective in building relationships between characters who never actually meet in the play, such as Phyllis and the psychotic dog walker Tom, played by Joe Kerridge.  Their moving of flats together whilst in character provided some interesting nuances, and perhaps even some sexual tension in the case of Phyllis and Tom, who could potentially be a human example of Greg and Sylvia; (a complete departure from their expectations, opposites who truly find themselves in each other’s differences.)

 A special mention must be given forthwith to the fabulous casting – I am more than happy to have lost out on a part to the lovely actors who were cast in this play, they were pretty special. The lead girl/pup (Sylvia, played by Ellie ‘I’ve slept on couches before’ Taylor) bounded straight into the hearts of the audience, sparking peals of laughter in all the right places. As Greg (the lead male, played by Adam Button) rightly observes, ‘she latched right on.’ Sylvia is a role that requires a pinch of ADHD, and a whole heap of cute and artfully dishevelled hair, all things that Ellie Taylor definitely brought to the role. She deserves a big pat on the rump (and perhaps a nice long nap) for maintaining such an extraordinary amount of fizz and fun throughout the, not altogether short, production.

 Other beautifully executed performances came from Bianca Von Oppell, playing the uptight Phyllis, and Alanna Flynn, playing the psychiatrist of ambiguous gender and equally ambiguous origin, Leslie. Bianca’s Phyllis was like a good G&T; sour and cold, she hit all the right spots and left you giggling.

 The only thing that I would criticise about the casting is the lack of chemistry between the actors playing Kate and Greg, as this barrier made it slightly difficult for you to care very much about their relationship, or even believe in it having lasted twenty two years. There were breakthroughs between Kate and Greg as the play progressed, particularly during Kate’s drunken scene, in which Molly Blake’s (Kate’s) timing was impeccable. All-in-all however, the couple were not convincing enough to tug on my heartstrings.

 People have commented that Sylvia is an unusual choice of play for TG, particularly alongside the sombre Romeo and Juliet, and the frantic Streetcar Named Desire that are coming up later this term. I feel that Caitlin Pinner has kicked off the year to a bubbly start, and that her comedic departure from the normal, emotionally demanding play has been welcomed, not least because of the spunky lead role and the abundance of other strong female characters. After all, as we TG girls know, managing to get a part in this business is no mean feat when you only have XX chromosomes.

 Caitlin Pinner has done a sterling job of adapting the story for a British audience, and there is no doubt that the actors were successful in teasing the humour out of a transatlantic text that was first produced over seventeen years ago, something that can prove a problem if the wisecracks are lost in translation between the US and the UK. This October, Stage One was home to a truly funny little play this week, and I’d be more than happy to let it sleep at the foot of my bed.

Holly Boyden

Image: Courtesy Leeds University Theatre Group

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