A WORLD ELSEWHERE
by Alan Franks.
Theatre 503 above The Latchmere Pub 503 Battersea Park Road SW11 3BW To 15 February 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Sun 5pm.
Runs: 1hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7978 7040.
Review: Carole Woddis 24 January.
A dramatic precedent and an American President don’t make much of a mix.
The title is from William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus – the Roman Consul, banished for not compromising sufficiently to the tribunes, leaves with a threat couched within a dismissal. In Alan Franks’ play, Toby, a young Oxford undergraduate is preparing a production with a few spicey add-ons, culled from Brecht’s kidnapping of Shakespeare’s play.
The year is 1968, year of `revolution’, `love’, strikes and apparently a number of Rhodes Scholars at Oxford – from `a world elsewhere’ – of which Bill Clinton was one, seen from afar by fellow student Alan Franks.
Somewhat trading on that, A World Elsewhere is his recall of those times featuring one Elliott Farmer, Minnesota born and given to declaiming Bobby Kennedy speeches about America’s shame and confusion ober the Vietnam War. In every respect more mature than his young British counterparts, Michael Swatton as Elliott physically towers over the rest of the cast. Franks’ intention to show a US President in-the-making, even in those early days, is clear enough.
The rest of the play is frankly a jumble of themes half-begun but undeveloped. Toby’s room-mate, Chris, for example, is the one convincing character Franks might have explored for a richer seam – as a Chemistry student and northern, working-class lad, the outsider in a place of undeniable privilege.
Instead, he prefers to concentrate on the contrast between Elliot, Toby and Pippa, the twin-sister of his friend Nick (who has, we’re told, been caught stealing books), their immaturity, over-indulged backgrounds and Oxford’s archaic teaching rituals.
Add in a plot to unseat one of the Tutors, a candidate in an upcoming college election (a rather believable Crispian Cartwright) and you have what amounts to a lot of posturing but little dramatic dynamism.
Franks, a Times journalist for many years, writes with authority and intelligence about Oxford’s vaunted advantages, American politics and Medieval Literature. But Chris apart, seldom does either dialogue or characterisation come close to credibility.
For once, Theatre 503’s usual golden touch with new writing has forsaken them. Nostalgia, with insight, can be thrilling. Unfortunately this backward reflection remains clouded by heavy-handedness and perhaps some wrong choices.
Toby: Steffan Donnelly.
Chris: Dan Van Garrett.
Pippa: Sophia Sivan.
Elliott: Michael Swatton.
Mayhew: Crispian Cartwright.
Director: Sally Knyvette.
Designer: Sarah Booth.
Lighting: Dan Saggers.
Assistant director: Eva Mann.
World premiere of A World Elsewhere by Alan Franks 22 January 2014 at Theatre 503 Battersea London.