Deputy Culture Editor – Theatre
Reviewing the first “Play, Pie, and Pint” of the semester at Òran Mór
A surprisingly impactful commentary wrapped in a expectable comedy took to the stage at Òran Mór this past weekend in the form of Chris Grady’s Outside In. Directed by Sally Reid, the production was featured by the venue’s ever charming program, A Play, A Pie, and A Pint, in which patrons are treated to food, drink, and theatre all for only £15.
This week’s production featured Cristian Ortega as agoraphobic, paranoid, and entirely lovable recluse Jay, forced behind the doors of his mother’s home by the constant waves of terror delivered daily by the news. Wanting nothing more than total detachment from this dangerous and unpredictable world, he is forced out of his shell by the entrance of show-carrier and crowd favorite Coco, played by Martin Quinn, who shoves a gun into his letterbox. The two are catalyzed by the presence of Officer K, played by Katie Barnett, who on her final day of duty is on call to take statements for a nearby shooting. Things get vastly personal as the victim is revealed to be Jay’s dedicated mother, forcing the trio to stretch their values, ethics, and comfort zones to de-escalate the situation and find justice, self-confidence, and acceptance.
Dialogue between Coco and Jay is delivered like improvisation, extremely organic and fresh, especially from Coco who had the audience eating out of his hand from his first entrance. With proper Glaswegian swagger and a soft spot for Game of Thrones, Quinn played an incredibly easy to root-for rascal whose comedy held an underlying sensitivity that perfectly accented the lovable character.
The physical comedy grew from slightly predictable into a well oiled machine with practice, the direction by Reid blended seamlessly with the actors’ natural presence and timing, yielding to a delightfully natural rendering of what could have easily been a preachy message. In the same way, the references to topical shows and pop culture that could have been crutches for the actors were used effectively as tools for character development. Great directions were taken by both Quinn and Ortega as they created vastly personal and relatable characters without pandering to their audience.
As memorable as the acting was, the play was crippled by its writing. The exposition was delivered in a clunky manner; it could have benefited from 20 more minutes to allow the actors an organic transfer of plot. While the jokes sailed by with ease, Grady’s more intense moment lacked the rising action needed for a truly impactful performance. The responsibility of plot progression unfortunately all fell on Officer K who, while exceptional in her comedic delivery, did fall behind her stage mates in the more blatantly expositional moments, lagging on blocky dialogue. Forced to repeat driving lines over and over while her counterparts were given quippy one liners and emotional backstory, this is not a fault of the actor, but of the writing. She however immediately made up for these stumbles with her incredible emotional gravitas in the climactic scenes.
The production came to a pleasant end with a predictable resolution. The easiest route was taken and with a small act of courage and a long expected punchline, the lights dimmed. The charming characters and their exceptional performers deserved far better than a trite solution through a few throw-away lines, and if not for the stellar acting and charming direction that preceded it, the writing of the final scene would’ve done the show in.
In tackling the intense and ever-present issue of gun control with comedy and a less blatant offensive, this production raised the bar of theatrical dialogue when it comes to this highly sensitive epidemic. Outside In shows us the victims of smaller scale gun violence, the vastly personal impact that a seemingly inanimate object can have on our lives, and how allowing levity into our socio-political ideals can help us not only shoulder the heavy burden of violence, but in fact can help society constructively come to terms with its darkest issues while finding solace in its inherent kindness.