I always look forward to when the final year students perform their full length plays at the Royal and Derngate; it’s the crowning glory after three years’ hard work and shows just how much they can achieve. So, if I see one of these plays, and I don’t enjoy it, it gives me no pleasure to have to say so. However, a lot depends on the play that has been chosen for them to perform; and sadly, for me, Anne Washburn’s 10 out of 12 is a truly abominable play, almost savagely boring.
Its premise is that we see a long day of tech rehearsal run-through before a show opens; a backstage view of what goes in to make a production behind the scenes. But by concentrating on the tech, and its unavoidably stop-start nature, there’s little room for personality or “drama”. It’s hardly a drama, for instance, that the director doesn’t like the cello sound. No problem, we’ll change it – end of problem. And if there is a joke in all of this, it’s a very in-joke. Imagine how dull 10 out of 12 Accountants Version would be – two hours plus of intricately working through a trial balance on the way to presenting a set of accounts. It’s a bit like eating a cheesecake that has a perfectly ok biscuit base – but they’ve forgotten the cheese and the fruity flavouring on top. Just biscuit. It’s not enough.
I spent the entire time trying to work out what the point of the play was; the nearest I could get is that it ably demonstrates how idle conversations with colleagues are essentially mundane and inconsequential. What did you watch on TV last night or what flavour crisps are you munching, or is your sandwich the kind of thing I’d like to eat. And that’s about it. Oh, and I guess conveying how boring the technical rehearsal day is. It certainly achieves that.
It’s also a frustrating production with a number of conversational scenes taking place in the Dress Circle, overlooking the fact that people sitting towards the sides or rear of the stalls (including myself) couldn’t see a thing of what was going on up there. For sure, there are one or two amusing moments – I really enjoyed watching the actors fumbling their way into their start positions in the dark, for example, and the actor who finds his muse by fondling the wallpaper – but the overriding vibe of the play is one of tedium.
So, an extraordinarily bold choice for the Third Year Students? Yes indeed; and I fear one that did them no favours at all. This is so avant garde that the garde isn’t within a hundred miles. That creates a truly uphill struggle for the cast to shine out through the drabness of it all. Some of the actors seemed to run out of steam with a level of under-performance, whilst others tended towards overacting. However, amongst those who kept their heads up extremely well were Hannes Knischewski, who excels as the animated and pernickety director Elliott, bitching and moaning and swimming in sarcasm; and Chante Hawkins, with a strong stage authority which she uses effectively as the stage manager Molly. Brandon Mayfield gives a nicely pompous performance as the respected actor Paul who loves the sound of his own voice and amusingly conveys all the character’s ridiculousness; and George Hastrup is also very good as actor Jake, battling on with the “play” whilst no one is listening. But I’m afraid the production as a whole is a considerable disappointment.