A World Elsewhere at Theatre503
Alan Franks’ A World Elsewhere takes a look at a dramatic period in recent history from the point of view of the generation that was its most dynamic driving force. Set in Oxford in 1968, the drama revolves around four students caught up in the political and idealistic conflicts that characterised the turbulent, yet culturally fascinating decade of Dylan, Lyndon B. Johnson and of the war in Vietnam.
At the centre of the plot is a love triangle that forms between the three principal characters: Toby, Pippa and Elliot. Toby and Pippa have been friends since childhood, although Toby harbours a secret crush on the demure “English rose” Pippa. She in turn finds herself very quickly charmed by the passionate and politically active young Masters student from Minnesota, Elliot. Elsewhere, Pippa’s Marxist twin brother Nick is in trouble with the university authorities for having stolen – or “liberated” – textbooks. Pippa, upon finding out that Toby’s professor Mayhew is guilty of plagiarism in one of his essays, asks lovesick Toby to blackmail him into putting in a good word for Nick. Meanwhile jealousy arises between Toby and the idealistic Elliot, who is trying his best to dodge conscription into the US forces fighting in Vietnam. Elliot, however, is hiding another darker secret.
Franks’ play is fascinating above all for its analysis of the political turmoil present on both sides of the Atlantic at that time. Told in a series of scenes that moves back and forth between Toby’s student flat and Mayhew’s college office as the drama builds towards its heart-rending climax, the five roles that populate the story are subtly well-rounded by way of eloquent writing, although the irritation that Toby’s roommate – the bookish chemistry student Chris – has towards Elliot is never satisfactorily explained.
Sally Knyvette’s (famous for her role as Kate Sugden in Emmerdale) direction has drawn out good performances from all, though the standout is Steffan Donnelly’s engaging, droll portrayal of Dylan-worshipping Toby. Michael Swatton is adequately wooden as politics-spouting, oratory Elliot, and Sophia Sivan is pretty and demure as Pippa, though perhaps a little too theatrical in comparison to Donnelly’s and Swatton’s more subtle performances. All in all, Alan Franks’ latest piece is a thought-provoking review of the ideas and social and political changes that would shape the future of both the Old and the New worlds.
A World Elsewhere is at Theatre503 until 15th February 2014. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.