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Directors Simon Billings (ABH) and Tom Baker (JMO’B) brought Kenneth Logan’s hit to life in stunning fashion, dealing with the challenges of lockdown rehearsals and a minimal audience to produce a spectacle. A springboard for young male actors like Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, the play has been performed in the West End, off-Broadway, the Sydney Opera House and now Eton’s own ‘Empty Space’. Press Officer Oscar Lawson was lucky enough to grab a coveted ticket, and later caught up with the directors to hear about their vision for the piece.

They explained that there had been many challenges producing such a complex play, made even harder by lockdowns and time away from school. The performance had been delayed twice, and could only be performed to a small group of boys in Year 13 to remain Covid safe.

On the first night, the full hour and a half was recorded and made available to the rest of the school so they too could enjoy the thrilling performance.

Theatre in the ‘Age of Covid’ – Eton now livestreams its performances

Simon Billings and Tom Baker gave credit to “the phenomenal actors” who helped shape the play and took it in their own direction. With a long script Simon had to cut large sections, whilst still ensuring it made sense and preserved the many layers of character and emotion. The play saw three youths in their early twenties in New York navigating a high-stakes world of drugs, emotional abuse, and physical bullying, all from their small apartment, skilfully portrayed by the small cast of 3 actors. Warren, played by Sam Wilbur (ABH), desperately needs help from Dennis (Finlay Koessler, JMG), a drug dealer with complex psychological mood swings partly due to substance abuse. The pair also spend time with Jessica (played by Jake Simpson, MAG), where the audience is privy to even more difficult relationships and explosive arguments, vividly brought off the page by the actors.

Simon decided that letting the actors add their own touches, and explore the dialogue from the perspective of their characters, was key to communicating the more complex aspects of the play. “It’s a great feature of Indy plays”, he said, and his actors agreed that they saw their directors more as equals who allowed them free rein to make the performance their own. It helped that they were “very switched on all the time, with intelligent remarks and ideas,”, in fact it was “hard to know when to give notes and when to let them try something out, but it’s important to let the play breathe.” The actors, all in Year 13, added touches to the scenery, juxtaposing old statues with baseball caps, and even changed elements of their acting on the night, spinning scenes slightly differently than planned. It certainly gave the play a very realistic feel, and Sam, playing Warren, said at one point he felt physically intimidated by Finlay on stage, and his reaction was very real. Part of this comes from the small cast size, enabling more organic interactions, and part from the highly skilled actors, at times on stage for one half-hour scene with no breaks.

Overall, the play was performed masterfully, with Tom praising his actors for “really flourishing in their roles”. Credit goes to all three actors, and their directors and producers, Simon and Tom, for struggling through zoom rehearsals, delays, and a very ambitious play, to create a riveting portrayal of young relationships and a phenomenal play to watch.

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