J.M. Barrie’s Dear Brutus is a play about second chances. On Midsummers’ Eve, Lob (Patrick Orme) offers his guests the chance to go to a mystical forest, where they get the opportunity to start anew. Most of them go the forest, but do they make the most of this second chance?
I won’t spoil the answer, but let me tell you this much: the cast of Dear Brutus certainly knows how to take a second chance. While the first half didn’t amount to much, the second half made this play worth a visit.
The problems in the first half started with the set, which was poor in execution and functionality: the spray-painted wooden doorways looked amateurish, and the actors kept stumbling over the supporting poles. The stage was crammed with furniture, which made blocking difficult. Furthermore, there were many scenes where (almost) the entire group was on stage, which unfortunately seemed under-rehearsed – the delivery fell flat, and the interaction of the characters did not seem natural. The interspersion of these large group scenes with lengthy yet uninformative readings by a narrator did not help.
Yet just as Lob’s guests got a second chance, so did the play. It was in the second half that the talent of some of the cast shone through. Mati Warner’s performance as Margaret was superb – lively, physical and likeable. She had good chemistry with James Geddes (Mr Death), whose projection was slightly lacking but otherwise had a great stage debut at Oxford. Most of all Daniel Thomson’s stage presence stood out – his stellar performance of the self-conceited womanizer Mr Purdie was greeted with many laughs from the audience. He interacted well with the objects of his desires, his fellow cast members Meg Harrington and Teddy Briggs. Zack O’Dowd’s Mr. Coade made me suspend disbelief about his character’s age. However, Patrick Orme’s Lob was too overdone and the remaining casts’ characters did not get enough stage time to develop.
The lighting and costumes were very basic and functional. Curiously, the director (Alexia Kirk) and assistant director (Rebekah King) did not incorporate any sound in the play. While sound effects were not strictly necessary, they could have helped to accentuate some turning points in the script.
To sum up, while the first half of this play showed that student and professional theatre productions can be worlds apart, the second half restored some faith that it is possible to bridge the gap.