Wednesday, 1 March 2017

REVIEW: Speech and Debate at Trafalgar Studios 2

Trafalgar studio 2 is a perfect venue for showcasing young talent and this play provides a fresh platform to put these performers through their paces.

The play by Stephen Karam, who won a Tony award for “The humans”, is structured around the entry categories for the U.S. Middle School debating competition. Each category defines a scene in which the story of three oddball school children unfolds and their relationship develops. 

The early scenes find them each talking directly to the audience showing their individual isolation and ambition but as their relationships and back stories unfold the scenes become more engaging, culminating in their hilarious Group Interpretation dance where their shared ambitions drive them to perform.

Patsy Ferran is a prodigious young talent, who we first saw at RADA dominating the stage in “In the summer house” and has since gone on to play in Angela Lansbury's “Blythe spirit” and National Theatre’s “Treasure Island”. 

Her wide eyes, expressive face and comic timing are brilliantly on show here as Diwata, the aspiring school actress seeking revenge for being overlooked for a school production and seeking a platform to get noticed, through the Speech and Debate competition. 

Douglas Booth as Howie, the new insecure boy at the school and Tony Revolori, as Solomon, an aspiring journalist become her unwilling accomplishes in the competition but find it too creates an opportunity for them. The play is at its best when the three are on stage together.

A minor criticism is that their muted and inconsistent accents are disappointing in a play so clearly set in America. 

The production is simply but effectively staged with some clever use of projection to set the scenes and moves slickly between each section so the pace
is maintained for a very quick feeling 90 minutes.

At the heart of the play is a debate on truth, privacy and sexuality, with a sprinkling of religion and race, which is topical and relevant in a post Trump world. It appears to use Arthur Miller’s acclaimed play The Crucible which was based on the Salem witch trials and explored McCarthyism mass hysteria in the 1950’s, as a metaphor for the risks of intrusion and exposure social media can bring on people 60 years later. As Diwata says-“there are rumours circulating about me...I know ...I started them”; Fake news used to further her cause. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★
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