Writer: Alan Franks
Director: Sally Knyvette
Reviewer: Mary Halton
A World Elsewhere has the feel of a play that definitely wants to say something, that would urgently like us to understand the horror of conscription, the unfairness and illegality of the Vietnam War, the vast chasm that lay between what British and American young people understood the war to mean. Unfortunately it simply doesn’t quite translate; or at least not to a generation born 20 years later.
Set amid the grand spires of Oxford in 1960, it follows a group of students who befriend an American Rhodes scholar while trying to bail their absent friend Nick out of being expelled for stealing books. There is also a rather ineffectual love triangle and the unworldly Toby (Steffan Donnelly) is trying to put on a student production of Coriolanus, which may be intended to run through the play as a metaphor, or simply as a springboard for characters to declare their political opinions and associations.
Most puzzling is Chris (Dan Van Garrett), a working class chemistry student and by far the most engaging of the characters but barely given more stage time than it takes to occasionally storm in and out decrying the injustice of everyone else’s actions.
Elliott’s (Michael Swatton) dilemma of avoiding conscription is compelling, but as it is mostly delivered via oratory to the eager Pippa (Sophia Sivan), it lacks emotional clarity. Pippa is endlessly frustrating as a character; it is unclear what she is supposed to be studying, or indeed know anything about other than making tea – she acts as a sounding board for everyone else and does not seem to bear many of her own opinions or have a clear understanding of the state of the world. Nothing that Pippa does speaks of surety in herself; not when trying to use her sexuality to get her way and not when attempting to have political views. This could be argued to be the inexperience of youth, but having so many of these attributes stacked on the only female character is difficult to ignore.
It is entirely possible that this piece is both poignant and relevant to those who lived through this stage of political upheaval and in the isolated world of Oxford, but A World Elsewhere simply does not do enough to extend understanding or empathy to a younger generation. That may well not have been its intent, but in wishing to show how far removed Oxford was from the fields of the Viet Cong, it successfully removed the audience from them too. A necessary reminder of a slice of history and a political and social climate that should never be forgotten, it is only a pity that it could not extend a hand to those in the stalls.
Photo: Dan Saggers
Runs until 15th February