Review: Normal People

No, I’m sorry, you’re wrong. I am not going to start this review with a cliché and say that if you haven’t seen BBC’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel, Normal People, that you’ve been living under a rock.

On a serious note though, we are in a national lockdown and at this point, you really have no possible excuse for such tardiness to this iPlayer party.  

Oh, dear readers, how I wish my final ever university essay were an anthropological study on the reasons why millennial women everywhere are falling in love with Paul Mescal.  But it’s not.  So, I’m afraid this review is going to be short and sweet.  

A brief synopsis of the plot for those hermits of the hermitage: Marianne and Connell go to school together in Ireland. Marianne is not cool. Connell is. They fancy each other. A lot. 

The series follows their separate and intertwining lives from school, to university and beyond, comprised of twelves episodes which forensically expose the protagonists and their beautiful, yet deeply frustrating, love for one another.

I suppose the clue is in the name. Normal People is about normal people and how, really, the word “normal” is a meaningless, made-up idea.  The characters aren’t really “normal” at all. In fact, ‘intense’ is probably the first word I would use to describe the series, but perhaps that’s because I devoured it within two days. I would recommend stretching it out so as to savour the moment, but I just couldn’t help myself. 

You fall in love with the characters in a way that still allows you to be frustrated with them, cringing at the television, wishing Connell and Marianne would just tell each other how they feel.  Watching their relationship unfold, you feel both heartbroken yet oddly comforted. The viewer’s frustration becomes familiar, reflecting the same well-worn warmth that the protagonists share. 

Daisy Edgar-Jones (Marianne) is arguably the star of the show. At an astonishing 21 years old, her performance is moving and sensitive.  The show tackles extremely difficult topics within sex, mental health and, of course, loving and yearning to be loved.  Edgar-Jones’s development of Marianne reveals internal battles of self-worth, at points leaving you feeling utterly seen.  It is complex yet beautifully accessible. Having watched multiple interviews, I would venture to say that she’s also a really nice person. How annoying. 

Okay, okay. I suppose we should talk about Connell Waldron. 

Oh, how I wish I could be cool about this and say “Yeah, I guess he’s good looking. Not really my type though, you know?”  But I can’t.  I don’t know if it’s the chain, or the Adidas tracksuit, the crooked smile or the Irish accent. The man has got it all. 

I suppose the widespread fan reaction makes sense: the original One Direction fans have now reached their twenties.  They’ve attained some kind of maturity and independence; they are now the country’s doctors and nurses, lawyers and accountants; the obsessive thoughts of Harry Styles and those embarrassing tweets sent to Niall at the age of 13 all feel like a distant memory (just me?)

But then Paul Mescal’s jawline hit our screens. The reaction was inevitable. I confess, I only wish he were doing a national concert tour so that we could all buy overpriced tickets and merchandise with his face on it. 

Or perhaps we would be buying replicas of his silver chain. If you follow any Instagram account this week, make it @ConnellsChain.  It fills a gap in my newsfeed I didn’t know existed. 

Now, we are of course missing the point completely. Not only is Paul Mescal edible, he is also an incredibly talented actor. A personal favourite line was “I tink you’re very pretty by the way”.  It’s enough to make you apply for that Masters at Trinity College Dublin. Despite this being his first on-screen appearance, Mescal’s performance undoubtedly equalled that of Edgar-Jones. I wept through the scene in which he confronts his depression with a therapist. Though the acting is often very pared back and minimal, even within the quiet moments, you feel wholly absorbed within Connell’s contemplations. 

Now, I know everyone is very, very busy knitting, playing the flute and teaching themselves a fifth language. But I urge you to watch (or, like me, rewatch) this series and escape into a world with more physical contact than we could ever dream of. 

Pimms, Shakespeare, and Global Collapse

Dear St Andrews students and grads,

What a time to be alive. I’ve been asked to give some “alumni advice.” Oh dear.

I graduated from St Andrews coming up on 10 years ago, as the world was slowly creeping out of the Great Recession. I had been fortunate. The pound fell next to the dollar, and tuition, rent, drinks – the lot – got 25% more affordable for me. It was only when I graduated that I felt the sting of bleak job prospects and months of fruitless searching. They call it “the bubble” for a reason. It sheltered me.

A decade and one global pandemic on, you don’t have the luxury of that bubble. I can’t know how that feels. But I can relate to being trapped back at my parent’s house, desperate for what’s next, uncertain in the face of the future, ambitious with nowhere to go.

That’s all a bit of a bummer. I wouldn’t be American if I didn’t transition to a bit of “it gets better” advice with an undercurrent of High School Musical (“we’re all in this – together!”).

I spent my St Andrews days doing more theatre than all my friends who went to university for theatre combined. I was studying Sustainable Development but spent most of my time drinking Pimms in various gardens and memorizing Shakespeare. At university I started dabbling in poetry, hosting Inklight’s slam, penning Victorian erotica in iambic pentameter to amuse myself. I would get a serious job later, I was confident.

I would never have suspected, at the time, that this dallying about would be the part of university that gave me a career. After graduation I tried to be practical. I started working in fundraising for charities, but found myself frustrated by my workplaces, perpetually at the mercy of personalities and funding trends. After being laid off a few times and a particularly bleak 6-month stretch of job hunting and unemployment, I started writing poems for strangers on the street. I never stopped.

Poetry, the most unlikely of professions, has become my career in the intervening 6 years. My second book, my first with a major publisher, is coming out next month – The Poetry of Strangers, 30 June 2020, available for pre-order now [end of mandatory shameless plug!]. People commission me to write poems for occasions and organize avant garde poetry projects and teach spoken word and, prior to COVID-19 at least, to write poems on a typewriter for attendees at everything from weddings to underground speakeasies. 

The world, I discovered, was not so blandly practical as I’d feared. The whimsy I’d struggled with all through university as unmarketable turned out to be exactly what people wanted. 

More than anything for me, St Andrews was a sandbox. A place to find out what I would do when left to my own devices. The answer, apparently, was mostly theatre and country walks. 

When I asked a friend at university about his experience studying abroad in the US, he winced. “It was an academic sweatshop,” he said. He was supposed to stay a year and came back after a semester. He designed fonts in his spare time. The idea of not having that creative time shuddered him.

It wasn’t the practical career-y stuff I did at St Andrews that ever amounted to anything. It was the avenues I explored when I wasn’t working toward my degree, my flights of fancy that the university created a space for. My experience at St Andrews was far from perfect. I did more vomiting and crying in the rain than I’d now consider expedient. But I also sort of figured out what made me tick, not by doing homework, but by doing everything else.

To be clear, my position is: do your homework, too.

Now, as we head into an uncertain future, I’m not as anxious as I thought I would be. I’ve learned a lot since I graduated. Ten years from now, the world will look very different, and we will look very different. I suppose my advice is this: trust your passions. We cannot know what will be needed in the times ahead. There is a terror in this, but also a freedom. In the absence of a right path, we can – we must – forge our own ways.

Don’t forget this is a playground. Don’t forget we learn through play.

Yours,

Brian Sonia-Wallace

Then everyone left, and my entire life lay before me.

Photograph taken by Verity Katherine.

Photograph taken by Verity Katherine.

At graduation, while some people were going off to internships, grad schemes, jobs, masters, and more – some were already working! – I had nothing. Yet, I had to have an answer to the big question, “What are you doing after graduation?”. Until this moment, I’d always had a plan. 

I’d tried preparing for this moment during the year, but every time I looked at a job application, my heart would start pounding and my throat would feel so dry that I had to go party for a week or two to feel better. 

While some people were preparing for interviews or applying for masters during their final year, I was living in the present and making the most of my St Andrews experience. 

I immersed myself in my committees (Fine Food and Dining, Literary Society, StAnza Poetry Festival, and more) traveled around on couches, and went out every night of the week with all my international, intellectual, and interesting friends! I went for nights out in Dundee, wrote for student papers, and dyed my hair blue. I dumpster dived, organized dinner parties, and hosted the pub quiz at Drouthy Neebors. I felt so connected to my St Andrews community; I finally belonged somewhere. 

Suddenly, it was graduation: the gowns, the champagne, the congratulations. When asked, I said I was going to be an au pair in Spain, but the truth was I had no clue and felt hollow every time I said it. Then everyone left, and my entire life lay before me. 

I began to apply for jobs. I applied for 10 jobs in writing because that was my new dream. Nothing. I began to regret all those nights I spent having fun instead of applying for jobs. I applied for 30 more jobs in writing and also publishing because that was my dream in high school. Nothing. Eventually, I didn’t care. I’d apply anywhere for anything. I was stuck in a dark spiral and the only way out was a job. I began to hate everyone! All jobs could suck it. I kept looking up one way tickets to India. That would be fun. I applied and applied and applied. 

Three months later, CLICK! I was offered a PR and Marketing Internship at Red Hen Press, the oldest independent poetry publisher in Los Angeles. Yes, it was unpaid. But at least it was the perfect experience for my poetry-writer-publishing dream! And, thankfully, my family lived in LA so free rent. I worked really hard, got two part-time jobs, and eventually was offered a paid role as the PR and Marketing Assistant and was eventually promoted to Social Media Manager. Woop!  

It’s now 2020. I’ve been living in the ‘real world’ as long as I was studying at St Andrews. I’ve been unemployed two more times since then and currently work as a support professional for people with developmental disabilities (an essential service so currently employed!), which I never predicted. Every time I was unemployed, it felt like the end of the world, that I would never rejoin society, and that I was a total embarrassment. Yet, every time I have emerged stronger and more confident. Every time I had to let go of the plan, of what I thought I knew and wanted, of what others expected, and get what I needed. Yes, I am referencing The Rolling Stones. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” is my unemployment comfort song. 

Oh and I do not regret my choice to live in the present and make the most of my time at St Andrews, not one bit. The stories, the memories, and the community I made in St Andrews have supported me through the ups and downs. The community of St Andrews lives on. It is not confined to a place, but carried within each of us. 

Reflections on life outside of the Bubble

As I walked into “Fat Sams” in Dundee my eyes darted from left to right. New bouncers! New DJs! New Drinks! The ‘Escape the Bubble’ night in support of Childreach International was off to a great start. I couldn’t wait to see what (and who) was beyond the Bubble. However, as the night progressed, I soon realized I might as well have been back at the Union, as the dance floor filled with St Andrews’ students all looking for that escape. 

After Graduation I fully believed I’d be able to ‘escape’ whenever I wanted, seeing people from St Andrews as and when I chose and going about other aspects of life independently. On entering my first GDL lecture the next fall, and seeing a variety of familiar St Andrews’ faces, I quickly realized the distinction would not be so clear cut. I wasn’t always going to get to choose when I saw my former university peers, even though we were no longer restricted to three main streets.  

While further delving into London life, St Andrews continued to play a significant role in my post-graduate existence. I began meeting fellow alumni at dinners, networking events, and through new friends. Our common experience gave us an instant connection and in time close friendships developed. The more time elapsed, the more I came to appreciate these connections. I decided to embrace the links to the Bubble rather than trying to escape it anymore. 

I recently moved back to my hometown of San Francisco and felt sure that now, by virtue of the distance, I would be far removed from the St Andrews’ community. As I roamed the city streets, I knew I was very unlikely to run into someone at the grocery store, on public transport, or in bars – something I had grown used to happening in London, however unexpected. There are certainly fewer alum around San Francisco, but having reconnected with St Andrews’ friends in the area, I soon met other alumni through them. In retrospect, I am not surprised there is a strong contingent in California and I’ve come to the conclusion that wherever I go in the world, I’m very likely to meet other St Andrews’ alumni. Given the international nature of the university and how it attracts adventurous people who are constantly travelling and relocating, I’ve come to realize that it’s unlikely that any of us will ever truly ‘escape’ the Bubble unless we are actively trying to do so. While St Andrews certainly felt small as a student, I have come to realize how large and widespread the community is. 

Upon graduating I would recommend leaning into this network. While running into certain classmates on the tube may remind you of unfortunate run-ins that were all too common on Market Street, you may just meet your next travel companion, business partner, or best friend. St Andrews is a very special place and I have loved meeting so many new people who also chose to spend four cold years in the windiest, smallest and most charming of Scottish towns.  

Musings of a graduate

As a recent graduate from the University of St Andrews I have been struggling to navigate the uncharted waters of life beyond the bubble for almost a year now. I have experienced feelings of intense grief for the loss of my little town and the life that I had established there. I catch myself smiling sometimes as snippets of memories flicker across my otherwise jumbled mind. I reminisce the carefree spontaneity of sunset pier jumps, unplanned outings to the union and night-time chocolate runs to Sainsbury. Oh to return to those sweet sweet days! Every now and again I thumb through the old events planners I kept religiously since first year: Monday 8pm life drawing, Tuesday 6:30pm reeling practice, Friday 12pm lunchtime music concert and Saturday 2-4pm Catwalk rehearsal. Looking back now, I feel so unbelievably fortunate to have had such a vast array of opportunities right on my doorstep.

Whilst I admit to wearing slightly rose-tinted spectacles, I do not pretend to have forgotten the stress of endless deadlines and looming exams.  As somebody who has made it to the other side, it would be easy for me to preach the importance of balancing work-life with home-life, of seeing the wood for the trees. I will however stifle the urge to be that elderly person giving unhelpful advice on appreciating one’s fleeting youth.

Instead, I will share one small bead of wisdom that I have gleaned from my time at university. Many students with myself included, feel an incessant pressure to make university ‘the best time of your life’ whilst also striving to attain academic success. I have learnt the hard way that this is an overwhelming and insurmountable goal which only provokes an even greater sense of anxiety. I have come to realise that it is only through temporarily casting aside such pressures that you are truly able to be present in a particular moment and to simply enjoy it for what it is. I seldom think back to that one event I ‘missed out’ on, nor do I choose to linger on the blind panic I experienced as I groped around for a post-graduation plan. Rather, I remember most distinctly those small moments laughing with flatmates, discovering that perfect secondary reading source and bumping yet again into a friend on Market Street; the moments that weren’t planned but simply occurred.

Taking some time out after my studies has enabled me to pause and reflect. Like the course of an undulating river, I have been sculpted and guided by my experiences at university and the people I have met. And, (bear with this metaphor) just as its water flows quickly and incessantly toward the river mouth, my time at St Andrews has slipped away and I have reluctantly merged with the vast and terrifying sea. Finishing university is both a daunting and exciting prospect for all fourth-year students. While a degree of anxiety is of course inevitable, I urge you to remind yourself that you are leaving university having grown into a stronger and more resilient individual. You are ready to face the outside world!  

Lastly, I wish to reassure you that I am no longer floundering around aimlessly and I am grateful for the relief provided by what has been but a brief hiatus. With a graduate job organised for September, I now feel armed with a sense of acceptance and readiness to move onto a new and hopefully equally rewarding stage in my life. 

Ode to 601

Quarantine makes me think back to the bubble,

To raucous nights out with no shortage of trouble,

Most folk try the Vic or main bar to have fun,

But the best place in town is good old 601.

Both bop on a Friday and sinners midweek,

Our dear 601 is always trés chic,

Though often compared to a school disco hall,

Without it we would have no clubs at all.

Tinchy Stryder, Cascada and S Club 3, 

It has hosted many a celebrity,

They perform in St A to a chorus of cheers,

Despite having not been relevant for years.

The Freshers events – now they are iconic,

Especially after a few gins with tonic,

Though consistently lit, there can be the odd mare,

For every hot dub time machine there’s a clan warfare.

The tunes never fail to enthral and excite,

Cheesy throwbacks blasting out through the night,

From Cher, to Madonna, to Kylie, to Whitney,

Beyoncé, Shakira, a sprinkling of Britney! 

Nothing beats cutting mad shapes on the floor,

Boogieing, shimmying, slut drops galore,

When you’re feeling the vibes you just have to absorb it,

Looks like my wig has just gone into orbit!

Regardless if you have a deadline that’s due,

It is hard to resist a Pablo or two,

They taste just like juice and are highly effective,

At helping fulfil your desired objective.

When paid with contactless it really is funny,

How much you can drink without spending money,

Sometimes it backfires and people will stare,

But honey, don’t worry, we have all been there!

Living your truth and hanging with your pals,

The best way to boost collective morales,

There honestly is nothing I can condemn,

Except the fact it concludes at 2AM.

Post-601, it is time to get food,

A wee doner with chips and cheese is quite good,

Or when out on a Friday there’s no need to search,

Just grab 50p and run to toastie church.

A quick jaunt back home, then to prevent the sore head,

Down gallons of water in the comfort of bed,

It’s at this precise moment I really must say,

Justice for those who live in DRA.

Waking the next day in a state of distress,

Hoping and praying that you weren’t a mess,

The hangover likely got you feeling lazy,

Snapchat stories slap, if your memory’s hazy!

So why is 601 so extraordinary?

It’s the peak club experience – and that’s the tea.

Oedipus Rex: Reviewed

Graphics: Britton Struthers

When I first heard of the opportunity to review Mermaids’ recent production of Oedipus Rex, I jumped at the chance. We had just read the iconic Greek tragedy in second-year English, so this modernization seemed, given the circumstances, too good to miss. What I found was a spiralized, dystopian rendering of the play, one whose bleak, monochromatic set and multimedia approach played out like a Black Mirror episode in the flesh.

This production, written and directed by Gabriele Uboldi and produced by Chloe Ashley, was nothing if not complex. Even as someone familiar with the plot, there were parts of it I found difficult to follow. Uboldi’s fresh approach to the tragedy was constructed as a sort of descent into madness, but often that madness obscured points of plot. The script, however, was very well-written, particularly the monologues given to a number of characters. Additionally, the technical elements – voiceovers, videography by Finn Antrobus, original music by Annabel Steele, live DJ-ing by Zoe Ruki, and much more – all felt well-incorporated, a difficult achievement when so many things are fighting for the audience’s attention.

One aspect that felt a little flat to me was the choreography, which was well-staged by Sarah Julia Greenberg but not always well-executed. There was a disparity in ability across the cast that revealed itself in the larger group numbers, to the point that it distracted from the seriousness of the content. Perhaps it could have been left out altogether in order for the play to retain a more ruminative note.

On the other hand, many of the production’s gambles paid off. The inventive element of multiple Oedipus’s (Isabelle Cory, Charles Vivian, Miriam Woods, Martin Caforio) really demonstrated the breadth of these actors’ abilities, as they moved in and out of this demanding role fluidly and without breaking tempo. But perhaps my favorite aspect of Uboldi’s rewrite was the way in which he handled Jocasta (Martina Sardelli). Deepened far beyond Sophocles’ original conception of her, Jocasta featured nearly as prominently as Oedipus – and rightly so, as only she suffers on the level Oedipus does. Sardelli’s performance strengthened that multifaceted depth, as she flaunted and raged even while subtly revealing a profound vulnerability in her character.

Overall, Uboldi has constructed a story that interweaves seamlessly through and upon itself, so full of careful details and structured levels that I almost feel like I need to see it again to truly comprehend and appreciate it. It is a testament to Western civilization that I can sit in a local theater in a small seaside town in Scotland and watch my fellow students reinterpret a tragic story of human feeling that has endured for thousands of years and is still able to captivate modern audiences. Certainly we have come a long way since Sophocles’ time, but at our emotional core and in our personal and political relationships to each other, we have, Oedipus Rex reveals, remained the same.

4/5 Owlies

Review: Sofar Sounds

On Sunday, I embarked on my first ever Sofar Sounds gig. Founded in 2009, Sofar’s ethos is to “reimagine live music” by hosting intimate gigs all over the world with a secret line-up in unassuming spaces, all to encourage a better connection between the artist and the listener.

I, being a Sofar virgin, didn’t know what to expect. The venue doesn’t get announced until the day before the event, which adds an extra layer of mystery but in a place like St Andrews, you’re bound to have a connection to it regardless. I didn’t, but I’m but a humble fresher still navigating my way through uni life.

So we get to the venue, a cosy living room by the pier, and try to find a place to sit. Sofar gigs are renowned for having the audience packed like sardines since the venues tend to be small but it’s a great icebreaker regardless. If you would rather have a choice as to where to sit, maybe get there early instead of 2 minutes before the start like I did.

So there I am, huddled into a corner of the floor, side against the burning radiator and regretting wearing Fila Disruptors and the room goes hush. We get a small talk from one of the event organisers about Sofar as a whole, and a run-down of the now revealed line-up. On that evening, we were graced with Asthmatic Harp, Elisabeth Elektra and Mauvey. Each artist brought something different but equally special to the night – Asthmatic Harp’s calming melodies, Elisabeth Elektra’s dynamic stage presence and Mauvey’s soulful voice.

What I like about Sofar is the opportunity to hear artists where you otherwise wouldn’t and truly experience the music in a room of like-minded people since they are likely just as clueless as to who they are as you. If there’s one phrase I can use to describe the experience, it’s good vibes. The atmosphere was very welcoming and cosy, and I’ve never experienced music like that before. I’ve been to live gigs before, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about being in such an intimate setting that really works for itself. Not all gigs should be jumping up and down to the beat, sometimes it’s nice to just chill out with nice people to vibey music, personal space be damned.

Sofar are holding another event on Sunday the 8th March and I’d highly recommend you go, you can bet that I will be.

Preview: Oedipus Rex at the Byre Theatre

Graphics: Britton Struthers

“Daddy Issues” was the name given to one of an array of signature cocktails featured at the Oedipus Rex launch party last Wednesday night in Beacon Bar. A gusty combination of gin, cherry liqueur, and vodka, the concoction’s color echoed the vivid pinks and purples of the upcoming production’s posters, which in the past few weeks have been visibly plastered all over town.

This version of Oedipus Rex, set to take the stage at the Byre Theatre this week, is the brainchild of seasoned writer and director Gabriele Uboldi, whose work has graced the St Andrews stage a number of times in his illustrious career with Mermaids. He plans to take an entirely new production to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this summer before embarking on what is looking to be a promising career in playwriting and directing. Uboldi himself calls his adaptation of Oedipus a culmination of all he has learned and been working towards in his time at St Andrews, both in its technical challenges and in what he has garnered from the student theatre community here. The play certainly promises technical ambition, incorporating a polished array of elements including original videography, projections, choreography, and live DJing, some of which have been featured in Uboldi’s past work.

So, why Oedipus Rex? In the thousands of years since its first conception by Sophocles, Oedipus Rex has so captured the fascination of Western culture, even outside the world of the theatre, that it continues to be performed today. The troubling issues it poses have endured so far as to become integrated into our modern vocabulary, and a contemporary understanding of the play remains a powerful undercurrent in our approaches to the human psyche, most notably within Freudian theory. For Uboldi, Oedipus Rex represents a whole realm of still-relevant themes relating to storytelling and how we as human beings read ourselves in the narratives occurring around and through us. This play raises the question of how to react when you know the odds are already stacked against you, a question that in our current world of chaotic political and environmental turmoil is still each day begging to be answered.

In attending the launch party and in sitting down with Uboldi this week, I personally have felt a sense of convivial dynamism, not only from individuals such as Uboldi, but from the entire Oedipus team. It’s clear that this animated, close-knit collective is incredibly passionate about what it does. That passion promises to take the stage this week in an unmissable exploration of fate, the stories we are written into, and how we choose to tell them.

Oedipus Rex goes up in the Byre Theatre this Tuesday and Wednesday, 11-12 February, 7:30pm. Tickets are available on the Byre website:

A Doll’s House: Reviewed

I was hugely excited to have the chance to see this production of ‘A Doll’s House’ by Henrik Ibsen, as I have vivid memories of reading this play when I was fourteen in a National 5 English class (the Scottish GCSE equivalent, for anyone who is unfamiliar), and finding it a refreshing change to the never-ending deluge of Shakespeare that had been shoved down our throats up until that point. In all seriousness though, I remember being struck by the play’s powerful message of female empowerment that was ahead of its time, given that it was published in the late nineteenth century. 

The crux of the plot revolves around Nora Helmer’s realisation that she has been controlled her entire life, first by her father and then by her husband, Torvald. In order to pay for a trip to Italy to save her sick husband’s life, Nora borrowed money from Krogstad, a man of ill-repute, after forging her father’s signature. Initially, Nora is not troubled by her dishonesty; she and her husband are comfortable financially, and she is content with her role as an attentive housewife. But when Torvald becomes aware of her fraud, she is forced to re-evaluate her marriage. 

Given that the majority of the action is situated in the Helmers’ living room, the small and intimate setting of the Barron was perfect for this production. Director Charles Vivian and producer Alice Rickless did a great job in casting, as every actor shone in their role, and costumer Alex Rive excelled at dressing the cast in period outfits. With stripped-back tech and a fixed set throughout, the onus was really on the actors to deliver the show. They achieved that with flying colours. 

Fiona McNevin’s Nora was impressive. She fulfilled the difficult task of portraying Nora’s multifarious character traits: simple-minded and content with the boundaries society has imposed on her at the beginning, emotional and overwhelmed by her predicament during the bulk of the play, and resolute in her decision to walk out of the family home by the end. Sam Gray was superlative as Torvald; he exuded self-righteousness and arrogance throughout, and both he and McNevin had marvelous on-stage intensity which came to the fore during their high-octane exchanges in the closing scenes. Fran Ash was similarly exemplary as Nora’s compassionate yet level-headed confidant, Mrs Linde; Issy Cory was suitably attentive and caring as the maid Anne-Marie; and Liam Smith captured the menacing nature of Krogstad. Sebastian Durfee’s energy and enthusiasm as Dr. Rank provided a nice contrast to the heavier, more serious scenes, and McNevin’s panicked facial expressions while dancing the Tarantella made me and many other audience members chuckle. Another highlight was the door slam sound effect that punctuated Nora’s exit at the end as it heightened the drama in a way that I very much appreciated. On the whole, it should be said that the performance was seamless. Opening night nerves? Not a chance. 

As a reviewer, one often feels that one’s duty is to find some fault with the show, even if it is minuscule, but I genuinely cannot pinpoint any one thing that stood out as a detractor from the overall performance. Perhaps you could say the interpretation of the text was somewhat predictable – there was nothing totally unexpected, no unusual twists or reinventions. But that’s what made it so enjoyable. It would have been unnecessary to tweak this classic text; the real challenge was to execute the script’s nuances and make the characters and their relationships feel natural. The magic of this play is that Nora’s struggle is still as relatable as ever, and Vivian’s directorial vision emphasised this central concern excellently. The cast and crew should be immensely proud of their efforts – it was Mermaids’ last show of the decade, and they could not have gone out on more of a high! 

Five Owlies