There is often rightly so a stigma surrounding student written theatre. I am the first to admit, despite the fact I’ve written some, that my expectations are frequently a little lower when I go into a show knowing that someone in my peer group has written what I’m about to watch. However, I was completely proved wrong with The Ant Farm, written by Clare Horrigan: I don’t feel it’s an exaggeration to say that her piece would fit in entirely as a professional piece of writing. The direction (by Horrigan and Connie Crosby) was clear, concise and well thought through and the acting was faultless.
The Ant Farm depicts the story of three characters each at different stages of their relationships living in the same house. The staging is very realistic (well done to stage manager Jennie Barton for building a complete replica of a kitchen!) and probably the most convincing set I’ve seen created in student theatre. The audience act as a fly on the wall throughout as the characters converse, often about mundane topics, offering little chinks into their hopes, dreams and fears.
The first kitchen inhabitants are Anna and Peter played by Grace Hussey-Burd and Alex Wilcox; a couple at the beginning of their relationship who are very much in love. They are both desperate to have a child and struggle with their feelings of total emptiness and false hope throughout the course of the two-act play. Hussey-Burd is totally believable in her role, through both her tender and heart wrenching monologue and her subsequent scenes with her beloved husband. Wilcox is brilliant as Peter, seeming aloof and anxious in comparison with Anna’s passion yet lets the audience into his total helplessness through a beautifully executed monologue.
Secondly we move on to Mary and James, a couple married for ten years who have drifted out of love, bound together with their daughter Jennifer. The latter is played with energy and wit by Lizzie Mertens who avoids the temptation to be cutesy or coy in her interpretation of a ten year old girl obsessed with her ant farm. Her parents, Elen Roberts and Satya Baskaran, live together in a distant, hollow marriage each portraying entirely realistic and relatable characters, played with sensitivity and realism by each actor.
Finally, my favourite element of the play, we see Bethel and her Jack – a couple who were childhood sweethearts now at ‘that final chapter’. Lizzy Heward steals the show: she is charming and distressing in her interpretation of a woman with dementia, confused and frightened by the familiar world which she can no longer understand. It is a solid and horribly accurate performance which barely left any eyes dry in the house. Her husband Jack (Touwa Craig-Dunn) is stunningly played in a touching and very real performance of a man feeling frustrated, besotted and heart-broken by his wife as she changes into someone neither of them recognise.
The stories are all integrated throughout the same kitchen with the storyline disjointed and not chronological, allowing for the audiences to see parallels between each of the stories. Although the scenes may seem insignificant that is the complete point of Horrigan’s writing: as humans, we are each arguably as insignificant as ants, a mere statistic in a busy world. Although the metaphor is repeated a lot this hardly matters in a play that is so excellently crafted and fluid, reminding us of one crucial fact: ‘don’t forget that you’re human’.
Watch This, the society for original theatre, should be very proud of their achievement, as should the entire team, for putting on a student written show that is of such a high standard. Without doubt The Ant Farm is my favourite show I have seen at the guild of this academic year; if you’re unsure why, go and watch it.