Creating theatrical comedy that can make an audience burst into laughter at every turn is no easy feat. When the comedy in question revolves around the farcical events leading up to an attempt at a communist revolution one Saturday morning, featuring all sorts of double crossing, it seems a rather large order. Yet Suzy Cripps’ ‘The Optimists’ pulls all this off slickly and superbly, the events of the play supported by a consistent stream of deliciously snappy dialogue. Sustaining such constant laughter throughout the entire one-hour production is incredibly impressive, especially for a brand new script, and much credit is due to the writer, directors, and entire cast.
The Optimists is the second offering presented at the New Writing Festival, directed by Lucy Hayes and Cameron Spain. While the cast should be commended for their crisp performances, Hayes and Spain’s direction tightens the whole production into a compelling hour, infusing every scene with a punchy pace that prevents the show dragging and losing its deft sense of humour. The show uses the entire space of the BT Studio effectively; the surrounding stage is predominantly black with the exception of a red painting, co-ordinating nicely with the costuming. The vast majority of actors are dressed in black with the occasional insertion of bright Communist red – and in his colourful football shirts and dressing gown, Ryan Lea’s Daniel was the only real exception to the colour-scheme, highlighting his constant sense of being awkwardly out of place.
Cripps’ snappy writing, however, is the real backbone of The Optimists. Each character had their own unique and distinctive voice, which is an impressive display of skill from a new writer. Some might not find the various plot twists and developments particularly believable, or think that the ending ties everything up far too quickly and neatly, but ultimately these are all elements of farcical comedy, that inevitably demands some suspension of disbelief. Either way, the dialogue and performances throughout are certainly entertaining enough to make one forget about their improbabilities; your time will almost definitely be spent in side-splitting laughter instead, in no small part due to the commitment and energy of an extraordinarily capable comic cast.
The entire cast have excellent comic timing and a strong stage presence, although John Livesey as the dry, cynical aristocratic Russian valet Sergei is the standout performer in my mind. His Russian accent never faltered and he wrung the comedy out of every single line. His chemistry with Ryan Lea’s hapless Daniel was spot on, especially in the opening scene; Sergei’s cynicism contrasted nicely with Daniel’s bumbling naivety as well as complimenting the bumbling hot-air of Ben Thorne’s Alex. Interplay between cynicism and naivety, and between practical realism versus unrealistic optimistic expectations, coloured almost all the characters’ interactions, right down to the cafe owner’s exasperation with the communists using her premises to hatch a haphazard “plot” (featuring a memorable turn from Ella Ditri who makes the most of a smaller role). Throughout all of this Sergei remains a sardonic voice playing off both Daniel and Alex, bringing them back down to earth, as does El Blackwood’s posturing Katie. Elizabeth Mobed also deserves mention as Tatiana, her spiky performance instantly raising both the wit and the tension of the scenes whenever she is onstage.
Altogether I wholeheartedly recommend The Optimists to anyone after a hilarious evening’s entertainment; its quickfire pace and sense of humour mean you’ll spend almost the entire hour falling about laughing. It’s a splendidly talented comic cast as well, and I look forward to seeing them in future productions.