The Surgeons’ Hall is a cosy venue and the shows are usually unfussy and entertaining. You could never imagine the harrowing rape scenes from “Herons” or “Chaos by Design” being welcomed at the Surgeons’ Hall. The actors would be sent to fetch their coats. Even “Sandel,” which Tychy alone amongst reviewers has condemned for its celebration of paedophilia, had needed to be turned into a creamy Oxford daydream before it could get past the audiences here. The Surgeons’ Hall also knows how to butter Tychy up. The local beers are superb – especially the house stout, Black Cork.
This afternoon I was back at the Surgeons’ Hall for Josh King‘s “A Writer’s Lot.” The play is produced by intwothewings Theatre Company, who I think have some connection with the Royal Holloway University of London. James William (Kristian Wightwick) is a playwright whose plays always seem to conclude with women dying. No less a genius than Edgar Allan Poe had pronounced that, “the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.” William has a ready explanation for his apparent morbidity: darkness is a “fuel” for him, and it makes him embrace life more passionately. Yet girlfriend, theatrical colleagues, and a man who conducts himself like a psychiatrist are all unconvinced. Felix Clutson dominates the proceedings as the smarmy, passive-aggressive specialist, whom we may begin to suspect is authoring William’s misfortunes in more ways than one.
“A Writer’s Lot” is a stylish if rather slight chamber piece. The characters and set have a generic 1930’s feel, with their typewriter and whisky decanter, and the show comes to consequently resemble scenes drawn by Herge. When the psychiatrist complains about the swearing, he may be reaffirming this play’s underlying gentleness. The quality of the acting ensures that everything is smooth and clear. The writer’s anarchic creations may at times recall the mayhem from Flann O’Brien’s “At Swim-Two-Birds,” but for me all “metafiction” only advertises its lack of content. “A Writer’s Lot” characteristically demonstrates a preoccupation with framing and an inclination to allegory. The psychiatrist may be concerned by the writer’s penchant for blood-splattered heroines, but his lot remains a bloodless affair.