Elli Siora’s new play Rewritten has been selling itself as a show investigating relationships at Oxford University. Over the course of just over an hour, we follow the relationship between William and Bella, an English undergrad and a masters student of something to do with artificial intelligence. Relationship is perhaps a strong word – indeed, it is regularly debated by the characters themselves – but, as is, we see them meet, have various encounters, and “break up”. And then, in a slightly different version, we watch it again.
Rewritten is determined not to be a simple love story, and is riddled with gimmicks in order to avoid this. As aforementioned, the whole thing happens twice with tiny conversational twists, a la Nick Payne; William is played by three different actors in the different scenes; the story is not only pointedly fragmented, but includes a meta-theatrical scene in which the characters sit in the audience, and one comments on the fact that she doesn’t really understand what’s going on. Frustratingly, perhaps as a result of just how many edgy devices were shoved into the script, none were allowed to properly flourish. It wasn’t really clear why any of these things were happening, and they tended to pronounce the productions’ flaws. Having three actors play the same part both emphasises the difference in quality between their performances and, presumably, explains the lack of chemistry between the actors. The nuances in the two different versions of the play would be interesting, if it weren’t for the fact that they don’t seem to make any difference to the end result of the story. The dialogue seems far more focussed on delivering a few witty one-liners than furthering the audience’s understanding of character or events, which, when combined with the intentionally fragmented plot, left me confused as to what was happening at almost all points. Indeed, the only moment at which it was clear what was going on was when Bella, during an argument, listed off their relationship history to William.
Despite this frustration, the production contains a few brilliant elements. The set is innovative, even if it disturbs sight lines at a few moments – giant jigsaw pieces, representing the fragments of the plot, delineate the different settings, bringing a unity to the set difficult to create in the Pilch. The music, played live by Calypso Harrington, was beautiful (if a little overused), and brought a warm intimacy to the piece otherwise absent. The lead actress, Alannah Burns, was funny and captivating as we followed her through the not-relationship, making even the most awkward lines work. And in the rare moments when the dialogue and chemistry worked between the actors, sparks flew.