DDF Review: ‘Reckoning’

By Rachel E Tavaler

-Martin’s Reckoning follows two parallel stories: a pair of sixteen-year-old students, Rachel (Catherine Wright) and John (Max Greenhalgh) who have been caught drunkenly having sex in their Christian school and are waiting outside of the headmistress’s office for their punishment whilst, inside the office, the headmistress and a Classics teacher (also played by Wright and Greenhalgh respectively) discuss how to discipline the students. The action of the play, which cuts between the headmistress’s office and the students’ conversation, essentially consists of the two actors, with minimal set and props, side by side, in dialogue. This simple staging has the potential to allow the complexity of the script and actors to shine. It is a shame, therefore, that Snider-Martin’s writing does not support this structure.

The parallel drawn between the two sets of characters by doubling up the roles is an interesting choice, and presents an opportunity for the cast and crew to create thought-provoking comparisons between the two sets of characters. However, nothing particularly significant appears to come out of this casting choice: the similarities do not seem to go further than their both being vaguely romantic plots and the fact that both pairs discuss the same topic (the sexual misconduct of the students). It would be interesting, perhaps, if Snider-Martin’s writing worked to make the two sets of scenes mirror each other more closely.

Likewise, the relationships between the characters do not appear fully formed. The two teenagers seem simultaneously to know each other (some confusing dialogue seems to reveal that they were ‘good mates’ before they slept together) and yet not know each other (early in the play, John asks Rachel what A Levels she is planning to take, and she later asks him whether he prays – surely the type of information that ‘good mates’ would already know about each other). Likewise, the headmistress is quickly established as pious, prudish, and scornful of premarital sex. However, despite the implied longstanding friendship between the two adult characters, the Classics teacher does not seem to understand the problem with describing to the headmistress the excruciating details of walking in on the two teenagers in a compromising position. An argument can be made, perhaps, that this is symptomatic of the Classics teacher’s lack of perception when it comes to understanding the headmistress. If this was Snider-Martin’s intended reading, however, then the script could benefit from a clearer definition of the relationships between the characters. As it stands, the relationships between both sets of characters come across as underdeveloped and unrealistic.

As a result of this lack of clear-cut relationships, the conflicts between the characters seem forced. Rachel repeatedly calls John out for being sexist, yet he does not appear to be saying anything overtly misogynistic. The dialogue reaches several points where John seems about to say something misogynistic, but Rachel angrily cuts him off before he has the chance, resulting in minimising the stakes in the tension between the characters. Indeed, most of the play seems to be a series of ‘almosts’, of nearly reaching, but not quite achieving, the desired effect.

The transitions between scenes are smooth, with clever costume additions of a cardigan or a blazer that transformed a school uniform into a smart teacher’s outfit, and an excellent accent change from Wright to distinguish the Irish Rachel from the RP headmistress. However, the use of disco lights and music in between the transitions feels out of place and unnecessary in the production: the humour of the transition quickly wears off, and the music seems to bear no significance on the content of the play.

There are moments of genuine humour in Snider-Martin’s writing: jokes about Love Island and being “woke” appeal appropriately to an audience largely consisting of Durham students. However, the majority of the production felt like an in-joke between the cast and crew. Both actors, but particularly Greenhalgh, seemed to be performing exclusively for the front row, where the production’s crew sat. Gags such as Greenhalgh’s final slap of Wright’s bum as they exited the stage seemed to be for the benefit of the crew, to the exclusion of the rest of the audience.

In summary, the production made some creative decisions which, whilst admittedly bold, are not altogether successful. Snider-Martin’s Reckoning could perhaps have used another draft before being put onto the stage – it is a play full of potential that is never fully realised.

 

‘Reckoning’ is being performed as part of the General Programme 2 at 8pm on Thursday 7th and at 2.30pm on Saturday 9th at the Mark Hillery Arts Centre, Collingwood College.

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