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August: Osage County

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August: Osage County, Northcott Theatre, 5th – 8th February 2014.

EUTCo’s performance of Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County was an evening of powerful and heart-rending acting which showcased the talent and excellence we have in the university. It deftly switched from darkly hilarious to emotionally poignant without ever feeling forced or unbalanced. Although its two and a half hour running time was risky, the strong EUTCo cast entertained right until the curtains closed and received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Image credit: EUTCo
Image credit: EUTCo

The entirety of August’s simple, yet lengthy, plot revolves around the sudden disappearance of aging poet Beverly Weston from his house in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. This incident prompts the dysfunctional Weston family to reunite after decades of avoiding one another, with explosive consequences. The show takes place solely within the old family home, now inhabited only by the cancer-ridden pill-addicted matriach Violet Weston and Cheyenne house servant Johnna.

The majority of the show is an intense power struggle between mother and daughter, Violet and Barbara, as the rest of the family compete against one another simultaneously, resulting in absolute bedlam. This chaotic and in-turmoil family was shaped wonderfully by co-directors Lucy Hirst and Jamie Manton, who captured the many faces of each character and their different relationships remarkably well.

Katherine Stevens impressed throughout with her flawless portrayal of Barbara Weston, the main protagonist. She perfectly conveyed the middle-aged divorcee’s mixture of bitter isolation and heartfelt altruism. Hannah Lawrence also lit-up the role of Violet, the sharp-tongued mother who could have been played in a charicatur-ish and annoying way. Instead, Lawrence injected the character with a perfect combination of pathos and humour.

EUTCo’s production very rarely stumbled in its valiant attempt to perform such a challenging play at the Northcott Theatre. The set was phenomenal and captured the audience members with its two-storey high building which had been constructed out of cunningly covered scaffolding to create an incredibly convincing Weston house. Every room had conveniently had its fourth wall removed, allowing the audience to get an insight into every room and observe every character’s actions – even when they weren’t the main focus on stage.

The play’s strongest section was undoubtedly the middle, which holds a brilliant set-piece scene revolving around a disastrous meal and a tear-jerking conversation between the three sisters. The first third felt weaker but this was largely because the central characters remained offstage. Similarly, a particularly awkward and unromantic scene felt very out of place in the last third and felt like it had ruined the delicateness of the scene preceding it. However this was soon forgotten after yet another concluding revelation, which brought the entire audience to futile compassion for the onstage characters.

Overall, the show was a sensational success and I look forward to seeing EUTCo’s next show, The History Boys, which takes to the stage on 12 March.

 

Josh Gray, Music Editor

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