The snapbacks and branded T-Shirts adorning the characters on stage signalled immediately that I, Marcus is a play designed to hold up a mirror to its student audience. The piece opens with the solitary protagonist Marcus (Antoni Czerwiniski) sitting centre stage. His isolation is amplified by the contrasting energy and movement with which his group of friends stumble into a train station at the end of a night out, forming a promising set up for a dark comedy which takes youth drinking culture as its subject matter. We later discover that the events of the play are taking place in Marcus’ memory as he recollects them to a therapist, but are left unsure of why Marcus is recounting a seemingly inconsequential narrative until the play’s final scene: his moral authority is utterly undermined after he violently murders his love interest (Lara Marks), simply because she ‘got with’ his friend Finn at a party.
The space of the Burton Taylor studio is utilised effectively throughout the performance. Hannah Hoibo’s minimal set should be commended for its versatility as well as symbolic qualities. The small black box theatre seamlessly transitions between a railway station, a therapist’s office, a garden at a party and the protagonist’s home; train tracks at the corner of the stage lead from one black wall into another, evoking a sense of stasis, and reminding us that these are characters with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
Chris Dodsworth was well cast as Finn, the dominant member of Marcus’ peer group. As Finn, he exudes arrogance and commits to a version of masculinity constructed through repeated sexual conquests, participation in sports and excessive drinking. This contributes to a lengthy exploration of the destructive impact of masculine pride. The stage space is initially coded as masculine, as five drunken males dominate an arena from which female characters are excluded. The first appearance of a female character is therefore abrupt and striking, Katy Carter-Brown (Rosamund Lawrence) being illuminated by a spotlight as the boys rate her appearance out of ten in a clever illustration of the male gaze.
While these elements of the play were successful, I felt that certain areas needed revision. Listening to the drunken conversations was sometimes unfortunately reminiscent of being the only sober one on a night out, struggling to find coherence or meaning in your friends’ words. Additionally, the character of Marcus is inconsistent; he avoids participation in much of the action, a seemingly placid and critical voyeur, but later commits a violent, semi-sexual crime against Scarlett (Lara Marks) after minimal provocation. This detracts from the narrative’s credibility, and I was at times left frustrated and disappointed by the plot. The increasing animosity among the friendship group builds to a crescendo which approaches physical violence – however, the hostility is undercut with the arrival of the train, which dispels the dramatic tension and fails to be cathartic. Surely this should be the moment when the long-anticipated crime is perpetrated?
Overall the cast and director alike should be proud of an original performance which boldly attempts to capture the apathy and anxieties of modern youth. However, I would recommend the play on the basis of its potential, rather than crediting it as a polished performance.