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Review: Potosí @ The BT Studio

This review was originally written for Cherwell

There is something undeniably refreshing about the originality of Potosí, the new student-written two-hander being performed at the BT Studio this week. Set entirely in an untidy bedroom, it presents the rambling pillow-talk of two young, gay lovers. This is not a covers-up, nighties-on comedy in the vein of Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce, however; it is an authentic portrayal of two strangers exploring each other, both mentally and physically.

Matthew (Tom Pease) and James (Shrai Popat), as eventually becomes clear, have just met on a night out and returned to Matthew’s flat in drunken desire. As they lounge around in post-coital lethargy, periodically dropping off and reawakening, they begin to talk. Their conversation meanders between the predictable and the unexpected, the banal and the poignant, until late in the play, when events elsewhere precipitate more ostensibly dramatic action.

Writer and co-director Jonathan Oakman deserves enormous credit for the evocative realism of his writing. In James and Matthew’s conversation, he captures that recognisable tone of young lovers simultaneously trying to impress and confide. There is a tangible atmosphere of hopeful excitement, of confused bliss that, far from being transcendent, is fundamentally relatable. It speaks of potential and, above all else, youthful innocence.

And it’s funny. Matthew’s dry remarks contrast well with James’ attempts at sincerity. Pease has wonderfully natural comic timing, and it has found its perfect platform in this cocoon of lazy chatter. Even when the play approaches more serious issues (homophobia, parents, identity), it does so with a frankness and an honesty that engages, rather than isolates.

Yet this play is not spoken in a language purely of words; physical interaction matters just as much as conversation and the playfulness Pease and Popat display is truly praiseworthy. They tousle each other’s hair and kiss each other’s noses, straddle each other and lay their heads on each other’s laps. This physicality compliments their conversation perfectly, reflecting their half-confessed interest in one another and proving an imaginative way to maintain the audience’s attention.

Perhaps Potosí would have less impact upon an older audience. The various musings on identity, parents, and relationships would perhaps touch poignancy more often for an audience of confused University students. Indeed, at times, the direction of the two lovers’ conversation seems contrived enough to provoke an unwelcome reactionary cynicism, but this happens only on occasion, and is soon swept away by the fluidity of Pease and Popat’s performances.

The play’s greatest asset is its intimacy. Surrounding a thrust stage on three sides, the audience intrudes, almost voyeuristically, into the extremely private moments of James and Matthew’s relationship. The technical direction emphasises this intrusion. Music is not played through speakers, but through Matthew’s phone; the lighting varies, reflecting the mood, as does Tom Stafford’s original score.

Potosí has no pretensions to grandeur. It makes no discernible social or political statement, but rather glories in the celebration of the seemingly ordinary. It thrusts the audience into the intimate moments of a cautiously burgeoning relationship, revealing something tender, quintessentially human, and not the slightest bit ordinary after all.

4/5

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