Knife juggling, worm drowning, and hairy men

Published

Credit: Blair Cunningham

Blair Cunningham
Theatre Editor

Live Witness Theatre Review – 30 plays in 60 minutes.

30 Plays in 60 Minutes was entirely jarring, dark and absurd; it juxtaposed itself constantly and even unsettled me at times, and for that, it’s one of the best pieces of student theatre I have ever witnessed. It would feel reductive to simply review the play at the level of student theatre – the quality would make such a judgement pointless, so it feels more constructive and accurate to review it at a professional standard in advance of its well deserved fringe debut in August.

The premise is beautifully simple: out of 30 plays corresponding to a number, the audience can shout out their choice from a given title list. Examples include The Smallest Cock Award and The Hairy Man of Moehau. Spanning the genres and forms seems like an understatement, with the play feeling like an audience-participation-stand-up-improv-satire at times, and at other times a dark and irreverent devised piece on modern teenage life. Many didn’t even fit into these categories, with such surprises as knife juggling, interpretative dance and erotic cooking.

Two pieces I’d like to see even more of included the audience. The first seemed a failure to begin with; having filled their cheeks with milk, the joke intended to make the two actors laugh said milk all over each other failed, but when several pints were offered for them to spit the milk, they refused. Maybe some of my faith in humanity was restored to see that two humans won’t douse each other just for beer. By playing with dozens of forms and tones, satirising them and twisting them, the play becomes wonderfully irreverent of both traditional scripting and audience expectation. In one of the most avant-garde scenes I’ve seen in a long time, a live earthworm was placed at the bottom of a complex water delivery system that, given enough time, would fill completely. Only after a few moments of disbelief, and the announcement that only if someone saves the worm will its death be avoided, was action taken. A strange test was put to us, the audience, and it seemed disturbingly like we had failed and become bystanders. I never expected something so deliciously strange to occur. (Of course we were then told that earthworms can’t drown, don’t worry – even though animal cruelty is very avant-garde.)

Obviously no play is perfect, especially if I’m holding it to professional standards. Some plays were slightly meek; without a strong message or tone in one direction or another, the flowing contrasts become too mild. A sketch involving distributing rubbish on the stage to highlight wastage was an example, too in-your-face and not exactly original, but of course I’m grasping at straws here to criticise what genuinely was a brilliant play. I’m still not sure as to the point of handing out name tags to audience members when they were never used, but as I’ve already mentioned, the audience participation in general was excellently used otherwise, and the play can only be improved with a greater exploitation of this.

It was not so much the individual plays themselves that captured my imagination as much as the plays as a whole; the jarring sequence of dark reality, then comedy, then absurd stunts was truly unique. The wonderful thing about the form is that this wasn’t even planned. Of course, if chosen purposefully, all the realist pieces could be followed by comedy and perhaps finished with a musical play to finish. This formula would be too simple for the genius displayed here – the sequence is basically random yet the eclectic selection will always deliver something strange and beautiful in its entirety. To smash through the constraints and clichés of student theatre and achieve something that honestly deserves national attention, there can be only one solution in my opinion – that this play becomes weirder, wilder and even more irreverent.