Q&A is a hilarious, immersive, and delightfully tongue-in-cheek piece of writing by Isaac Troughton. The idea of an avant-garde physical theatre performance of The Catcher in the Rye was so promisingly dreadful that I simply had to see how it would be brought to the stage, and I was not disappointed by the hilarity that ensued. From the moment I walked into the BT Studio, the performance was in swing. Tom Saer, as the actor Sebastian Lawson (Holden Caulfield in the piece’s play-within-the-play), was already accompanied onstage by Olya Makarova and Stepan Mysko von Schultz. They all careened about, switching between physical representations of different objects, including ticking clocks, quacking and flapping ducks, and a variety of vehicles, featuring cringeworthy sound effects and all. von Schultze as Jasper Plum (the character who plays “miscellaneous ensemble characters”) put on a particularly nasal caricature of a New York accent that had the audience in stitches. It was clearly meant to be a satire, bordering on mockery, of overly intellectual modernist theatre, and was so bad it was good.
El Wood as Sam Collins radiated a nervous energy as she vacillated between polite smiles and frantic attempts to call for order throughout the play. As she rearranged the bare set by adding four chairs, the audience were encouraged to play along with the live Q&A that followed the “performance”. This was helped by the fact that several cast members were sitting among us, making the experience very realistic. Fifi Zanabi was extremely convincing as Sylvia, a barmy old lady from Sheffield who made many an inappropriate comment. Isaac Troughton, the author of this play, delivered a similarly comical performance as Jesse, a sullen A-Level drama student, constantly looking as if he wanted nothing more than to dissolve into his edgy black clothes and go to bed. Finally, Jack Blowers was delightful as Clive Edwards, a disgruntled theatre critic from The Guardian who engaged in a heated and entertaining exchange with Saer’s character.
Highlights of the play included an uncomfortably and hilariously erotic “rehearsal technique” led by Makarova’s Niamh Greenfield, a brief acting lesson by the camp-posh (or posh-camp?) Jasper Plum, and the way Sebastian’s left leg became gradually more agitated and twitchy with each verbal blow he was dealt. The play also cleverly touched on several current topics, including the #MeToo/#TimesUp movement, American school shootings, the difference between stage and film acting, and the struggles of being an actor. Yet when Sylvia’s true motives (no spoilers!) were revealed towards the end of the play, the plot immediately took a more bizarre turn that made it difficult to stay immersed as an audience member. However, Sylvia calling Clive an “Oxbridge cunt” was so ironically self-aware that it generated the biggest laugh of the night.
While the plot became slightly unrealistic towards the end, and the characters a tad caricatured, I still found Q&A an enjoyable romp with excellently timed comic performances, making it an entertaining night out.