Perhaps the most thrilling aspect of watching a student play in St Andrews is the generally far-reaching scope of ambition. The 28th of April had sparked my interest with its intriguing premise which revealed very little besides its primary conflict and unconventional setting. Not knowing what to expect, I skimmed through Rector’s Café as I waited for my panini and observed a few preoccupied students with crumpled piles of paper. The minutes leading up to the play were undeniably suspenseful: suddenly, anyone in Rector’s could have been a person involved in the play, an excited audience member like myself, or simply a guest, unaware of what was about to happen. This uncertainty helped set up the sense of a lack of security before the play even started, and as the girl (Carla Jenkins) and the boy (Elliott Smith) stepped “on stage”, there was no escape: as they contemplated where the play was taking place, the lines between audience and actors became entangled in a whirlwind of metatheatre. For a brief hour, Elsa Klein’s postmodernist play turned Rectors Café from coffee-infused study spot to a mind-bending stage.
From the very start, the play’s down-to-earth, self-aware humour proved to be its primary strength. When the interactions were limited to two actors, their conversations were fuelled by dynamic exchanges of snappy one-liners, absurd jokes and expectably confusing musings on the nature of reality and identity. In fact, beyond the uproars and laughs there was a surprisingly profound layer of experimentalism, an adventurous viewpoint on genre and the conventionally binary worlds of audience and stage. Instead of reflecting on this with heavily dramatic twists, the play cleverly chose humour to outline its concept. Its ambitiousness remained on the surface throughout, and with this sense of self-awareness managed to avoid the trap of going over-the-top. Consciously featuring the stage manager (Briony Sturgis) on stage with the actors was one of the most exciting elements of breaking down convention, and successfully maintaining its charm.
The play’s self-aware humour also helped it quickly recover from occasional missteps. The duos of Elliott Smith’s boy and Carla Jenkins’ girl, or Grace Thorner’s Julia and Hugh Mitchell Casey’s John worked stunningly well together, their dialogue picked up a relentless pace as they engaged in the most absurd conversations, but when they were all brought together to further bend the minds of the audience, this pace lost some of its energy. Occasionally, the actors looked almost as confused as the guests of the café; suddenly it became unclear what their intentions were. This was understandable as the play’s ambition was constantly in the foreground, and luckily these moments were almost immediately overcome by sharp sarcasm and self-aware comments on the sense of discomfort.
As the plot proceeded (if there ever was a plot, as the play frequently addressed the idea of improvisation), the experimentations with merging the realities of the stage and the outside world became increasingly exciting. The stage manager’s occasional interventions maintained her commanding presence while also reminding the audience of a lack of hierarchy: to an outsider, she could have been a guest in Rector’s just as much as the actors or the stressed students. Conventions were further debunked when the girl delivered a surprisingly heartfelt speech about struggling as an actress, or when the boy’s monologue blended into an endearingly cringeworthy stand-up comedy sketch. The play truly soared when it explored the flux of identity, as Melissa McCarthy (Clemmie Beresford) entered the stage with her hilariously cartoonish partner, Henry Harry Tybalt Tarquin Woolley IV (Dan Sajjad). Exchanges of roles occurred both theoretically and physically (in an ingenious move, the actors handed each other their scripts), furthering the questions of the limits of performance and reality.
As the stage manager concluded the performance with perhaps the most mind-boggling incident of the plot, it truly showed how much the play managed to benefit from its potential. Hopefully, The 28th of April is not exclusive to the date and we get to see similar experimentations in the future.