By Tom Pymer
The DST Fresher’s Play this year, Ayckbourn’s My Very Own Story, is without a shadow of a doubt the oddest play I have ever seen. It is certainly a considerable challenge, as three competing storytellers attempt to balance their very different stories and, in the process, accidentally managing to finish each other’s tales in a mad yet strangely satisfying manner.
It was certainly an interesting choice for a fresher’s play, and quite a challenge. Director Brandon ST C told me how pleased he was to have freshers to work with: “because we’re all in the same boat and none of us really knows how DST works yet.”
I will confess I had reservations: the play itself was confusing enough. The puns are not fantastic and the entire thing was really very silly; on occasion, I wasn’t sure if the script actually worked. Having three storytellers saying identical open lines is a clever idea, but it did get rather irritating, as did the section in which they argued over who should go first, which is a shame because it had the potential to be really funny.
The major drawback I encountered in the first half was that the script was too silly to be taken seriously, yet too serious for the jokes to truly work. One never felt truly comfortable laughing at the genuinely funny bits (like the fact a serious Victorian tragedy was entitled “The Donkey”) because of what seemed to be much soberer and less comfortable sections. This was a great shame because there were some great bits, but they just got crowded out either by being too serious or by being more irritating than they were funny.
I am pleased to say, however, that this problem was greatly rectified in the second act. Perhaps it was simply that the script was sillier and more comical in the second half than the first, as it began to become more clear how the various stories fitted together (or rather were shamelessly cobbled together by rather weak connections in a way that somehow worked perfectly), but there were definitely a great many more laughs, and very well-deserved ones at that. It is very possible that the actors begin finding their feet much more and gain confidence.
It was also immensely satisfying to see how the three stories, all of which were extremely different, managed to weave together. This is not only cleverly done, but it is presented extremely well as the storytellers begin to tell each other’s stories and the various different characters begin to cram onstage together in increasingly ridiculous ways.
I can say with considerable confidence that DST’s future is in very good hands. There is considerable talent demonstrated from all quarters: from Ellie Fidler and her spectacular Alicia, who is incredibly funny and got to declaim “I must go and unwrap the confetti” in a melodramatically tragic voice, to Rory Leventhorpe who, despite having only about thirty seconds on stage, not only steals the scene, but also provides one of the funniest and most memorable moments of the entire play. And then, of course, the marvellous trio of Jacob Freda, Will Allen and Thomas Mullen who take on the roles of the central band of competing storytellers. The cast and crew should be well-encouraged: they all have bright futures ahead of them.
DST Freshers’ Play: My Very Own Story will be performed for the final time tomorrow evening at 7:30pm in the Caedmon Hall, Hild Bede.
Photography: ‘My Very Own Story’ production team