Going into LUTG’s production of Games and After Liverpool, two one-act plays written by James Saunders, I was intrigued even before I’d arrived at the venue. Both plays are far from a traditional theatre-going experience, and as such, I wasn’t told the venue in advance. Instead, I had to wait in Alexandra Square with the rest of the audience – during which time I was excited (and somewhat trepidatious) about where I was going to end up – before we were taken to the performance. LUTG had my attention before I’d even stepped foot in the venue and I’m glad to say both plays lived up to the hype, providing entertaining and thought-provoking experiences that stayed with me long after they were over.
The first play, After Liverpool, was my favourite of the two. It explores how people fail to communicate even when they’re talking to each other by focusing on the conversations of two couples. “We never answer each other’s questions. Have you noticed? We add more questions. It’s not communication, it’s ping pong,” says one character, a line that perfectly encapsulates the central theme. The play’s episodic structure allows it to jump between scenarios with ease and ensures not a second is wasted. The decision to keep the characters nameless, combined with the naturalistic dialogue, gave After Liverpool a feeling of authenticity few theatre productions have. It felt less like I was watching actors act, rather watching real couples talking for several minutes without ever actually saying anything, a situation everyone will have found themselves in even if they don’t realise it.
The second play, Games, is a much more complicated affair. On the surface, it’s about a soldier being questioned about his involvement in the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, but there is much more going on behind the scenes. As this is a group of four theatre students putting on a play about a soldier being questioned, but even that is keeping it simple. It’s a very metadrama experience which has you dealing with fake endings, actors playing fictionalised versions of themselves and, by the end, plays within plays within plays. It took a little while to get used to, but once I did, I found it a fascinating exploration of the rehearsal process, the role of actors in society and how far the boundaries of theatre can be pushed. If anything I wanted the fourth-wall stuff to have been expanded upon further – I was half expecting director Lilly Bryony Menear to show up playing herself – but overall it made for a unique experience.
When Games finished a part of me wondered if it was over, or if the actors were about to burst back onstage and reveal yet another level to this metatheatrical odyssey. Seemingly the rest of the audience agreed as it took for one of the crew to confirm it was over before anyone left. If that isn’t a sign a show has been compelling I don’t know what is.
High praise must go to actors Ross Buchanan, Phoebe Mycroft, Daisy Newburne Munn and Eddie Sophie Edmunds, who are all fantastic across both productions. I have a few minor complaints – some of the monologues in both plays have a habit of spelling out the show’s meaning rather than letting the audience figure it out for themselves – but I was so entertained and left with so much to think about they’re barely an issue: another excellent LUTG production, and congratulations to everyone involved.