As the winner of the Darren Funnel playwright award, Between Ambition and Anxiety marks Sebastian Ng’s first full-length play. As with any student written piece, the playwright should be commended for their effort and devotion to bringing to life a subject that is important to them, as is clear with Ng’s work. What struck me was the spirit of the piece as it attempted to explore grand political statements such as the population crisis, the purpose of art, and free market capitalism through parallels between the problems faced by a film crew attempting to make an indie political thriller and these real-life global issues. Though an intriguing premise, the vastness of the subject matter compared to the limitations of the play meant that its message often felt confused, with the audience left uncertain as to what they were supposed to take away from the piece as a whole. This was accentuated in the second act as the sense of coherence broke down and became more of a series of vignette referencing rather than exploring even more meta-theatrical subject matters. Therefore, he arrival of a misconstrued terrorist attack cemented this productions separation from its original subject matter as it became more ridiculous than effective. In order to improve the script there needed to be refinement with a particular focus on the main messages of the piece and the aspects that are necessary in achieving this narrative.
Unfortunately, the characterisation of the main roles felt similarly uncertain. The play opened with the films lead, Edgar (Harry Hardman), becoming annoyed with his inability to perform a speech that he didn’t feel connected to. Though comical, it was hard to get away from the feeling that the actors themselves experienced this with their own work. Consequently, the dialogue itself often felt unnatural and stiff. Despite this, the cast handled their roles well, demonstrating their acting abilities regardless of these drawbacks. This was especially obvious with Ram Gupta and Serena Gosling who warmed into their characters of the Director Connor and the Assistant Director and became central in holding together the different strands in the plot. Alex Marshal and Angharad Phillips were notable in their portrayals of the arrogant Wenlock Hatfield and the twisted screenwriter Paula, respectively. The idea of the role of protagonists and antagonists being a matter of perspective was an interesting concept, which they explored well despite the lack of development from both of these roles. The supporting cast demonstrated their capabilities as actors but often felt wasted in their roles as they felt more like extras rather than necessary characters.
Nevertheless, the inventive use of staging in such an unconventional space must be commended. Ng’s direction therefore managed to capture the bustle of a small film set which further heightened the tensions between the characters because of the confinement in which they were working. I particularly enjoyed the use of the sliding doors at the rear of the stage, which created dual depths when opened and closed, establishing two sides of a phone call, flashbacks, and a dressing room. It was moments such as this that demonstrated the potential of the play and proved that with further development it could become a solid piece of theatre.