The Heythrop College Amateur Dramatic Society (HeADs) production of An Unwelcome Guest is a welcome addition to London’s thriving off-fringe theatre scene. The play is the debut of resident playwright Alexander Griffin, exploring the arbitrary nature of social norms and themes of madness and isolation. Cheery, but we’re all mad here in London.
The contemporary story focuses on the social interactions of a theatre troupe involved in an amateur production of Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals. Social ties blossom between the characters, and new relationships emerge. Meanwhile the nameless protagonist (Chris Paige-Tickell) watches from the sidelines, drunk and enveloped in cigarette smoke: eccentric but harmless. The story takes a dark turn when he is caught by one of the girls, apparently in an act of voyeurism. A witch-hunt quickly ensues, and our protagonist is left questioning his own sanity.
Despite being set in an ornate building in the plush area of Kensington, university drama departments are clearly feeling the pinch of coalition budget cuts. The frequent set changes, when done without proper decorum, do detract somewhat from the suspension of reality. However, this also lends itself to a certain amount of creativity and the set designs and different lighting arrangements help contribute to the themes of the play throughout the second act.
HeADS is in its seventh year, yet An Unwelcome Guest is only their second production. The young 12-person cast is promising, but suffers from some mistakes in delivery and timing – although these are chiefly brought on by inexperience and nerves. Chloe May is particularly convincing as the reclusive mathematician coming out of her shell, and Fergus Cronin-Coltsmann’s portrayal of the concerned moralist is relatable, although he is technically in the wrong. (Yet what is wrongness if not subjective? Here we become stuck in an existential loop and cry into our wine until the second act is over).
Although the play explores some rather dark themes, it’s funny in its own misanthropic way. The story throws the protagonist (and thus the audience) into the role of the observer and asks us to question the social conventions we implicitly accept as normal. Despite its slight technical awkwardness, An Unwelcome Guest is a commendable achievement from Heythrop College. Let’s hope they continue to twist our heads and tongues with what’s to come.
An Unwelcome Guest ran from Friday 22 to Sunday 24 February at:
Photo of Heythrop College by Tupinambah courtesy of Flickr