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Sally Knyvette Directs 'A World Elsewhere' by Alan Franks

Sally Knyvette Directs A World Elsewhere by Alan Franks
at the Theatre503, Battersea

Review by Jackie Emery

Steffan Donnelly (Toby)
Dan Van Garrett (Chris)
Sophia Sivan (Pippa)
Michael Swatton (Elliott)
Crispian Cartwright (Dr Mayhew)

Design: Sarah Booth
Lighting & Sound: Dan Saggers

They say that if you can remember the 1960s, you weren't really there. However, judging by the reactions of some members of the audience, 1968 made an indelible impression on those who were students at the time. Set during the Autumn of that turbulent year, A World Elsewhere is a nostalgic but powerful play that encapsulates the days of rebellion and political upheaval; a time when young people felt they were empowered to change the world.

Inspired by his own experiences at Oxford University, Alan Franks' play examines student attitudes to politics and world events and infuses it with a love triangle that gives the play its heart. Each character is realistically drawn, as if these were people Franks used to know: gangly, love-lorn Toby with a passion for the music of Bob Dylan; brusque, bearded Chris, the Northern chemistry student; pretty Pippa, the posh girl who dislikes the hypocrisy of joining a cause 'just because it's trendy to do so'; Elliott, the American postgraduate Rhodes scholar (Franks was at Oxford with Bill Clinton) and Dr Mayhew, the pompous English tutor. Sally achieved excellent performances from her cast, who all felt completely natural in their roles. However, special mention should go to Crispian Cartwright as Mayhew. Cartwright previously appeared in Sally's production of Judgment at Nuremberg; he is a barrister by profession, but has proved to be a terrific actor.

Located above The Latchmere Pub in Battersea,the theatre had tiered seating which provided a good view of the stage wherever you sat. Instead of programmes, paperback copies of the play were on sale at a very reasonable price. As well as the text (which we didn't read before seeing the play spoilers!) the book includes a timeline of 1968, listing all the major events that took place during that year. This proved very useful for those of us too young to remember much about it or indeed, had not yet been born.

Most of the play's action takes place in the living room of the student digs shared by Toby and Chris. The set felt authentic down to the last detail; the shabby sofa, shelves on which books jostle for space with wine bottles, piles of LPs with tatty covers beside a portable record player. There were a couple of scenes in Mayhew's study, and the transitions to these were smooth and neatly done, with one moveable wall and a change in lighting. Music also plays an integral part in the story, and Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez provide the soundtrack of that era.

On the night we saw the play, there was a Q&A session after the performance with playwright Nigel Williams and journalist Donald Macintyre, who discussed the events of 1968 as portrayed in the play and in their own experiences. Interesting questions and points were raised by members of the audience, some of whom were of the '1968 Generation' and had been to Oxbridge; others of the same generation who had gone to teacher training or vocational colleges and whose student lives had been very different from that of the privileged elite. There were comments also from young audience members - the new generation of students - about the way that the internet and social media have utterly changed the nature of protest and student rebellion.

After the Q&A, we stayed for drinks in the pub, where we had the opportunity to chat to Sally and the actors. It was great to be able to congratulate them on this excellent production! Later, we also had a good conversation with Donald Macintyre, touching on subjects from politics to the changes in society wrought by the internet.

All in all, we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. A World Elsewhere is a wonderful play - catch it while you can!

Rehearsal photo from A World Elsewhere's Facebook Page
Production photo of Sophia Sivan as Pippa and Michael Swatton as Elliott by Dan Saggers

A World Elsewhere is playing at Theatre503 until February 15th 2014.


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