Tom, Nathan, Danielle, and Laura are four friends, whilst Tom and Laura and Nathan and Danielle are two couples. These kids are attending a corporate UK music festival called “Festivus.” At first I presumed that “Festivus” is based upon the Isle of Wight Festival, since these kids arrived here by ferry, but upon reflection it could be equally modelled upon Glastonbury and they could have come from the Isle of Wight. Either Roman costume is obligatory at this festival, or else the friends have chosen to attend in fancy dress, or else “Festivus” is set in a stylish alternative reality in which Rome never fell and everyone still wears togas and laurel wreaths. Pearl Jam and Kasabian are playing at this festival, though, and so it is not too alternative.
“Festivus” is produced by Signature Pictures and it is showing in one of the more intimate studios in C Nova. It is written by Sami Larabi, who plays the central character Nathan. What you feel about “Festivus” will probably depend upon how old you are. To younger theatregoers, this play is likely to sound like a verbatim account of practically anybody’s weekend at a music festival. Its premise might appear more unusual to older theatregoers, but the same demographic is less likely to appreciate how authentically “Festivus” captures the experience of roaming around a huge festival campsite and traipsing through its endless detritus. It is all so familiar, that impression of constant restless waiting – at bars, in queues for the toilets, outside the toilets where friends are queuing, and stuck in front of the stages between bands.
Tychy falls somewhere in between. I haven’t attended this sort of festival, or in fact any festival other than the Fringe, since 2005. “Festivus” makes me wonder what I might have been missing in the meantime. Because there is so little danger within popular music these days, I tend to assume that Glastonbury et al have become little more than family-friendly camping holidays. The kids in “Festivus,” however, are swigging vodka, taking drugs, making love, and dancing to good music. Someone my age is likely to regard them with tremendous envy and frustration, for the Bacchanalian appearance of “Festivus” is in fact as bogus as the plastic laurel wreaths. These kids are too immature to take advantage of their youth. After a lot of bickering, the couples break up and their friendships come asunder. Someone my age is likely to view this as a commentary upon today’s pop music. If some proper punks were headlining this festival, the dramatis personae would not be spending so much time back at the tents and at each other’s throats.
Tactically, Larabi’s writing makes some shrewd choices. There is a crucial ambiguity to Nathan’s backstory: he seems to have in some way overreacted to his brother’s death, though the play effectively dares us to follow this doubtful line of thought into condemning his selfishness. He is a difficult character, a character who can no doubt never be solved, although one suspects that the writer has the ability to produce a happy ending and that he has simply taken the easier option. A lot of good comedy is wrung out of Sally Horwill’s irresistibly bratty Laura, but never enough to tip the story over into frivolity. This humour actually produces suspense since it is never clarified until the very end of “Festivus” as to whether the play is ultimately a tragedy or a comedy. The horseplay about festival toilet disasters carries the promise that “Festivus” will conclude only with Nathan’s dignity in tatters rather than with him being left hideously alone.
Perhaps this is not so much a tragedy or a comedy as a satire. Perhaps Larabi is sniggering at how these foolish characters have squandered the time of their lives. Depending upon how old you are, that Roman attire might reflect the lost, half-legendary status of festival youth.