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People You Know… and plays you should

Trigger warnings: assault, addiction

With the daunting amount of effort that goes into staging a theatre production, it is remarkable and commendable that People You Know Productions was able to pull it off thrice in an evening. And then do it again the next day. A promising beginning for this new collective indeed. People You Know was founded by St. Andrews students to fill what they saw as a ‘gap in the limited theatre scene’ with a focus on spotlighting original student screenplays. By utilising the artistic talents of the St. Andrews student community, they wish to actualise experimental and avant-garde theatre on stage and make their productions more accessible to a wider audience.

On the 9th of April, which was their opening night, I made my way to the Buchanan Lecture Hall and attended all three performances. People You Know’s endeavour to bring ‘taboo’ subjects into mainstream conversations was evident in the subject matter that the plays dealt with, which included assault, addiction, bullying, and toxic friendships. Trigger warnings abounded on the entryways and for the most part, the plays handled their difficult dialogues well. There were, however, some instances where the triggering subject required more nuance or simply more time to be explored further. In fact, I wish each play had been twice as long as it was, as I believe that they could have had an extra act or two to really explore the depth of their narratives.

The opening play was Millie Haldane’s A Man Walks Into a Bar, which was set in a Glaswegian pub. Directed by Matthew McCaffrey and Nicole Sellew, and featuring Marcus Judd, Sam Klein, Aubrey McCane, and Haldane herself, the play is intended to portray ‘adult bullying in a world where histories creep up and destroy our relationships’. The characters were so complex that they definitely needed more time to unfold their complicated interpersonal relationships. McCane’s guarded and solemn performance as Nose stole the show, as he made his character the perfect foil against the levity and wild behaviour of pub owner Juggy (Klein) and drug-addict Mikey (Judd). Mikey is an utterly unlikable character, who ‘preys on the insecurities of those around him to inflate his own ego’, and he gives the impression of someone who very much peaked in his uni years. While Judd’s vocal performance slipped from Glaswegian lad to the airy tones of London a few times, his overall stage presence managed to convince the audience. As he grew more unpredictable and unhinged with every hit of mysterious white powder, you were left wondering what his next move would be. The rambunctious gambolling of Mikey and Juggy slowly turned steel-edged and menacing, and I know that I found myself frustrated that Juggy failed to defend his lady love Lottie from the misogynistically malevolent insults levelled by Mikey. This of course means that I was invested and thus the play succeeded in its intent. The ending left me wanting more, as Nose revealed Mikey’s horrifying past actions and the curtain dropped. I wish that the play had more time to delve into the effects of that shock instead of leaving it to allusion. There is certainly a great deal of subtext to be explored.

The next play, Bitch, written by Haldane, directed by Catherine Barrie, starring Lauryn Perkins-Monney, India Kolb, and Cecilia Wishart, left me feeling unsure as to what exactly I thought about it. It was seemingly meant to portray the conversation that happens between friends surrounding misogyny and assault. My favourite thing about it was the staging, which included a slimy and phantasmic performance by Harry MacKenzie. To me, he seemed to be a representation of internalised misogyny as well as of the unseen male perpetrator who assaulted Frigid (Kolb). I came to this conclusion because MacKenzie’s lines were not limited to the insults recounted by Bitch (Perkins-Monney), but included insults hurled between the women. Feisty (Wishart) was a funny comedic foil to counterbalance the seriousness of the subject matter and the other two leads. Where the script slightly lost me was in the handling of the conversation about assault. One of the major plot points is that The Man who assaults Frigid calls Bitch ‘a fucking bitch’, and this is the reason that she becomes incensed and tries to convince Frigid to report him. Although it’s never excusable for a man to use this kind of language against a woman, it feels like slightly unequal footing compared to the physical trauma experienced by Frigid. If the play intended to portray two opposite reactions to trauma; anger and denial, then it may have benefitted from a more balanced conversation, or at least a conversation with more understanding between the women. By having Bitch reveal the extent of her friend’s trauma on the internet, and take away her power of choice, it gives the friendship between them an innate toxicity. Having MacKenzie utter the last lines of the play, effectively giving The Man the last word, also fell slightly flat, and made me once again wish that there was an extra act to flesh out the storyline and explore the extremely complicated nuances of the friend group. That being said, the performances of the cast were immaculate.

The third and final performance of the evening was Trust, written by Natalie Westgor and Nicole Sellew, was a murder mystery in a setting that Agatha Christie would have been proud of. Directed by Freddie Lawson, the play starred Marcus Judd, Hamish Dicketts, Dylan Swain, Daisy Paterson, and Emily Christaki as delightfully debauched socialites. The script was rife with sexual tension and motives for murder as the audience was made to believe the characters would like nothing more than to kill each other! There was certainly no love lost between the friends as old jealousies arose and buried secrets were uncovered (just as Christaki was in the final act). Judd, Dicketts and Swain appeared in their element during the performance and carried the dialogue swiftly. Paterson portrayed the smouldering jealousy of her character with ease and panache, making her the perfect mature counterpart to the naivety of Christaki’s ingénue. Although still battling the limitation of less than an hour of stage time, the scenes felt well-paced. The revelation of the murderer’s identity, and their sordid history, was the only part which felt rushed and left me wanting to see more. All in all, this vibrant script of a venomous friend group was the perfect close to the evening. This was a strong start by People You Know, and I hope to see more from their group in the near future.

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