Beyond Ourselves
Rating: 2.5/5
Venue: Union Theatre, London
Cast: Callum Diaz, Eddie Drummond, Danielle Laurence, Caoimhe Mackin, Thoma O'Neil, India Pignatiello, Jacob Rayner Blair and Annabel Worsfold

A group of recent performing arts graduates take over an empty space with the intention of creating something. Anything, it doesn’t matter. A moment that can be shared with an audience if in fact any audience ever turns up to see it. But should that matter? Is art created for an audience or for the artist themselves? Beyond Ourselves is a new play created for the Ardent8 Ensemble and written by Andrew Muir which aims a spotlight on the current state of our creative industry for those young graduates wishing to make a career out of it. 

The Ardent8 Project is a wonderful initiative that seeks to support emerging young actors from outside of London through an 18-month programme of workshops led by industry mentors that culminate in a professional showcase. Beyond Ourselves was this year's cohort's performance. 

Advertised as a dark, surreal comedy, the show revolves around eight young creatives who gather in a space to try to do something. As we are constantly reminded for the first 30 minutes of the show, the what doesn’t matter, but the why, well, that’s a different matter altogether. The why must be encased in some pretty strict boundaries to make that “something” art. 

The “something” can’t depend on whether there is an audience to see it, in fact, whether or not there is an audience doesn’t matter. The “something” can’t be for money, or for career advancement. The “something” must exist just for art

Personally, I find that notion a bit grating. I am more of the belief that, actually, wanting to be paid and to make a living from something you are passionate about is not a betrayal of art, and that the starving artist narrative can often be more harmful than helpful to new generations of artists. Don’t let the world convince you that wanting to make a living from your art somehow corrupts the essence of it. 

Throughout the show we see how this group of strangers find a way to open up to each other and embrace their right to be there, to make something, whatever that something might be, all by following the lead of Jake (played by Jake Rayner Blair), the de-facto director and writer of the “something”. Mind you, he doesn’t really direct, and he didn’t actually “write” anything to begin with, but Jake still takes on a Jesus-like role in leading the heard to… enlightenment

The cultish undertone was palpable and made more obvious by the doe-eyed reactions from short-tempered Caoimhe Mackin and frustrated Annabel Worsfold any time he went on a monologue about the essence of art. 

The director’s character was like the theatre kid version of Yoda, Jedi powers included

Beyond Ourselves invites the audience to reflect on some of the pressures and challenges young artists and performers face, but then takes the opportunity to engage in that reflection away by coming right out and explicitly pointing out the obvious. Yes, racism is bad and unfortunately very prevalent, and so is the lack of funding and opportunities. Classism and elitism are also massive issues within the industry. Correct. Sadly, I feel the biggest failing of the show was that it oscillated between the surreal, the implicit, and the on-the-nose and preachy

In terms of the performances, I think the eight artists on stage showed a lot of promise, but for me the sceptic character played by Thoma O’Neill stole the show. He exuded charisma and although we only got glimpses of his backstory, his character felt the most real and the most well rounded. His exchanges with Callum Diaz, whose comedic timing reminds of a young Matt LeBlanc (probably intentionally, given the references to Friends) were some of my favourite parts of the show. 

Eddie Drummond felt wasted in the role of the classic theatre kid, focused only in the spotlight, but having him deliver that song towards the end was a wonderful use of his undeniable talent as a singer. I just wish we had seen more of him. 

India Pignatiello’s late arrival to the show was grating to say the least. Not only did the “plot twist” of her arrival throw the pacing out of whack, her interactions with the other characters seemed so forced, like she was new, but she also knew exactly what was up? Of course we didn’t have as much time with her as with the other characters, but I am still not sure of who she was supposed to be. We don’t ease into her character, she just tells us

Danielle Laurence’s character in and on itself reflects the problem it was supposed to be criticising. She is a Black woman, and upon her first interaction with the group she makes it known that in the past she hasn’t felt welcome in spaces like this one because of her race. They all agree they want to treat each other as equals, as just performers working on this project, together. 

But then her other interventions all seem to revolve around her race. Of course, that is part of her identity, but to make it into her whole identity is falling into the exact same pitfalls the industry does when it comes to casting members of marginalised groups: reductionism and generalisations. 

Overall I think the material was confused as to what exactly it wanted to be, do and say, and the performers were left virtually adrift to find a way to deliver it. Maybe this show just wasn’t for me, and even though I can appreciate the references to Beckett and Stanislavski, subtlety in delivering the message would have gone a long way. 

You can book tickets to see Beyond Ourselves in London or Poole, here.

Written by Luma 

**photos by Mark Douet**

No comments