Review: Oscar’s World, Above the Stag

“No-one ever reaches the end wishing they hadn’t done things differently”

Born in France and brought up on Sartre and Beckett, Alex Fiori’s new play Oscar’s World is an existential treat A married couple and their son spend day after day sat on their deckchairs looking out at the ocean, eating tinned rice pudding and searching in vain for the spirit of adventure that sent them away from civilisation in the hope of something more. They talk of leaving, but never quite get round to it despite Oscar’s dreams of the world beyond the horizon.

Carol Robb and Peter Saracen as Rose and Nono are very good as the ill-suited married couple who constantly “find themselves on the wrong side of the pond” and with Steven Serlin as the titular son form the dysfunctional family unit at the centre of the play, their character traits becoming more and more pronounced as the years roll by and eccentricities abound. But it is when Teresa Jennings’ French outsider joins the party that sparks begin to fly and the way in which Jennings plays the slow slide of Ziberline into the regular routine is excellently done, the emotion she brings to the final scene is remarkable. Christopher Mark completes the cast with a nice but tiny role.

The sedentary nature of the play means that it is ideally suited for the intimate space Above the Stag. Individual beach huts created from the wreckage of their boat line the back wall and deckchairs lie in a sand-strewn pit from which the characters rarely stray. Realistic sound effects also add to the ambience and persist relentlessly throughout the show, constantly reminding us of the repetitiveness of the lives in front of us. Ben Blaber’s lighting design is effective but really comes into its own in the second half with a couple of neat shifts, culminating into a beautifully atmospheric twilight for the final scene, all the more impressive considering the limitations of the venue.

The first half does go on for a little too long, once the banality of the family routine has been established, watching the cast endlessly observe it does drag a little, meaning that the second act plays much quicker and more excitingly. In an otherwise excellently directed (by Tim McArthur) play, I’d be tempted to suggest cutting maybe 20 minutes from the first act and running it straight through with no interval, taking us on the whole journey without break and I rather think it would have a greater impact that way.

All in all though, this is an impressively different new play, there’s little else like it playing in London at the moment, and it is nice to see a playwright wearing his influences so openly whilst making his own accomplished contribution to the genre: Alex Fiori could well be one to watch.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Programme cost: £1

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