It’s always lovely to encounter shows that manage to perfectly balance drama and comedy in such a way that the two compliment and further the effect of each other, rather than conflicting. Getting this right comes down, as so many things naturally do in the theatre, to the combination of writing and acting. If even one of the two is off, then the comedy and drama cannot coexist effectively. In the instance of Same Old Same Oldies, the comedy and drama smoothly orbit one other, each coming to the forefront and then retreating exactly when they should.
Firstly, in terms of writing, writer/ director, Marissa Landy, has written a charming script sprinkled liberally with laughter and true-to-life characters. It presents us with elderly people who, though they are stereotypes, are stereotypes we have all encountered. I defy anyone with elderly friends or relatives not to recognise traits of at least one of them in at least one of these characters. Landy creates character exceptionally well and sets up precisely the right level of petty, inconsequential conflict to drive the action forward and develop characters an audience can invest in. The slightly more surreal sequences, even though I was a little unsure of them at first, are also lovely choices that, as the play goes on, add to to the atmosphere of confusion and nostalgia that develops around these characters.
On the subject of characters, this cast all do a fantastically fabulous job of bringing them to life, with intricate use of mannerisms, voice, and movement to easily lull an audience into accepting these six university students as residents of a nursing home. Kyle James Murphy, as Alfie, is a wonderful scene-stealer, and the right kind of scene-stealer who only steals scenes at appropriate moments and does hog the spotlight from the rest of the cast-mates. His dynamic with Mavis (Eloina Haines) is a delight to watch with the two utilising the classic back-and-forth of an elderly couple we all know from many a sitcom, but splashed with the unique flavour of these two actors and Landy’s writing. Hannah Burke and Brontë Kazim provide the perfect foil with their contrasting dynamic of Rose and Victoria. The disparity between the Northern and Southern duo is the core of the performance and serves as a foundation for the comedy and drama to cooperatively build around.
Melissa Rutnager’s Leslie and Jennie Martin’s Olive, the two Celtic outliers for either side of the divide, add that little bit something extra, giving a gentler, more emotional seasoning to proceedings and setting the stage for the more heart-touching elements to come into play. Martin’s performance is devastatingly real and powerfully understated while Rutnager performs with a pure conviction and, where appropriate, passion that’s guaranteed to choke you up a little. Rita (Jasmine Holly Bullock) is the ideal final addition to the character line-up, her presence helping to keep everything else in order, anchoring the action, and helping to add busyness to the more stationary scenes
I’m a sucker for simple staging and minimal movement that does not act as a detriment to the action of a performance. A play like Same Old Same Oldies would naturally be prone to becoming a little bit static but Landy’s script and direction has gotten around this. The fast-forward scenes are a stroke of genius and executed by the cast with an incredibly impressive physicality that almost tricks the eyes into thinking they genuinely are somehow seeing the action onstage sped up. The breaks into the ‘baby-sequences’ also help to get the actors out of their chairs and add to the aforementioned confusing and uncertain atmosphere the play gradually draws in the background.
The climax is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, with the final blackout leaving things on a bittersweet, touching note that it’s done more than enough to earn.
With a triumph of a script and brilliant cast who do it all the justice it requires, Same Old Same Oldies is yet another production for Queen Mary Theatre Company to be immensely proud of this year. There’s only two performances left so if you’re narrowing down what shows you’re going to see as the Fringe draws to an end, make sure Same Old Same Oldies is one of them.