Updated: Jan 7
Written by Harriet Purbrick and Matias Sifontes
Left: writer and star, Thomas Davy, playing Felix. Right: Tom Pavey as Cameron. All photo Credits to Abby Swain
Stretched, a one act original comedy, and the debut play of Look Sharp Theatre, performed one-night-only on Friday 12th November at Pyramid Theatre. It follows Felix (Thomas Davy, also the writer) who fails to land the pitch for a serious television drama on life in a Soviet Gulag, and finds himself scrambling with his team of writers to develop and pitch the children’s animation Stretchy Cow – blurted out by Felix on the spot to placate the network executive’s disappointment. Oh, and he only has 40 minutes before the next pitch.
Instead of exploiting artistic license to stretch (pun intended) time at the writer’s will, Davy goes for a much more challenging but rewarding approach: adopting a real-life time frame. The countdown not only provided drive and tension, but also served as an excellent pacing device. This meant that at rare points when the story stalled – for instance, some of the back and forth between Felix and the other writers went on a little too long – it was swiftly pushed on by time itself. The countdown successfully reminded the audience of the play’s transience and is so valuable to Stretched because it also resonated with the student audience, as frantically attempting to meet a deadline is inseparable from the university experience.
Davy shows further creativity in the structure of his script and plays with the audience's expectations. For instance, it only becomes apparent that Felix’s serious opening monologue is actually the TV pilot’s script once he pivots to a dialogue with Cameron, a nifty trick Davy repeats in the second pitch.
Davy also showcases how he can seamlessly develop the story by gradually revealing new and important details – for instance it emerges that the gulag drama was actually co-written by Phoebe (Maeve Brannen), based on her grandfather’s experience. This also fleshes out the tone and style of the play. As Phoebe grieves her project, there’s much more at stake than in a goofy comedy: there are real emotional repercussions. It also embodies the play’s subject matter, as we learn the sacrifices creatives make in order to make their ideas marketable. As an original play developed solely by budding creatives, this meta commentary on the media industry is at its most direct when Cameron rejects the Gulag drama pitch: “just because you’re writing about a serious subject, doesn’t mean it makes good, thoughtful television.”
Direction and production (undertaken by Lewis Fraser and Talia Simmons respectively) were also strong. Pyramid Theatre was fully utilised as the actors embraced the often awkward space of the wings to symbolise in-between space, such as the corridor outside the conference room). The set was minimalist yet highly effective and ensured the audience’s attention fell to the script and the actors.
From left to right: Molly Anderson as Alice. Laurentz Valdes-Lea as Michael. Maeve Brannen as Phoebe. Thomas Davy as Felix.
In terms of performances, Tom Pavey’s rendition of the entitled network executive, Cameron, stole the show in the space of eighteen minutes. Though he is increasingly villified as incompetent and out-of-touch, his voice and mannerisms also land the most laugh-out-loud moments of the play. Davy’s performance as the protagonist is a testament to his ability to act as well as write: his stutters and back-tracking fit his character’s nervous persona, and is a nod to the dialogue of the Thick of It, one of Davy’s key influences. When it comes to the three characters on the writing team, Phoebe grounds the story as her character’s more dramatic arc neatly contrasts and provides a more realistic feel to the others’ comedy. Brannen’s sarcastic tone provides great moments of laughter too, “la-di-fucking-da!”. By contrast, Laurentz Valdes-Lea’s Michael appears to bear a large share of the comedic responsibility of the play. Valdes-Lea’s jokes land to varying degrees as a result of their lengthy structure. In fact, his biggest laugh relied on physical comedy alone as he stares down Felix, a testimony to his acting ability. Michael also bounces off Alice (Molly Anderson) brilliantly, providing many a visual gag and the cutest prop work that student theatre has ever seen: the incarnation of the actual stretchy cow (lovingly hand-made by Charlotte McRae). In her own right, Anderson delivers the play’s best one-liners, including the hilarious and memorable (“let’s leave Felix to squalor in his home-made cow pat”) that cohesively add to the play’s bovine-themed comedy (holy cow, various iterations on bullshit, as well as mad cow disease and foot and mouth).
Stretched provides sixty minutes of laughter and insight with a tight script done justice by the cast’s brilliant performances. Look Sharp Theatre should seriously consider slating additional performances in semester two.