The final Oxford play for producer Andrew Hall, David Hare’s incredible Plenty was a moving and challenging project both onstage and off, drawing on lessons learned and talent met across five previous projects in the city during the past two years. A string of outstanding reviews and impressed, engaged audiences showed the production’s success behind the scenes and on the boards.
Praise for the cast was high and powerful; in crafting the difficult and often awkward dialogue the play’s director Luke Howarth, returning to the collaboration after Othello last summer, brought with him the experience of AD Flo Brady. The pairing presented new ideas and viewpoints on a modern classic of a play, and the cast more than rose to the occasion of portraying the gradual emotional and romantic breakdown of one of the most powerful female characters in modern drama. Starring Gráinne O’Mahoney, Andrew Dickinson (Jerusalem) and Aoife Cantrill, supported by Shrai Popat, George Varley, Dom Pollard, Izzy Jesper-Jones, Emma Brand and Will Yeldham, the performances drew guests close to tears despite the play being infamously difficult for audiences to grapple with.
Technically, the play earned and deserved its impressed commentary from the reviewers too. The all-wooden set presented new problems for technical director Alex Grew (Endgame, ’Tis Pity, Othello, Jerusalem) in its design and construction on the show’s limited budget, with the logistics surrounding its sheer size and scale hitting home with the tasks of decorating, wiring, bracing and dressing. The play’s lighting design, an oft-neglected area of plays by reviewers and audience, was well-received and added a powerful tool to the arsenal of technical director Mina Ebtehadj-Marquis (Endgame, ’Tis Pity, Othello, Jerusalem) in bringing out the emotional tensions of the play through a deliberately artificial set. Alex Newton, production manager and responsible for the flying rig, faced his own challenges: from an almost-full-sized tree moving down over the set to a series of flying lamps and chandeliers, he brought a new dimension to the theatre space which had not previously been exploited by the team on other projects. Onstage, transitions were cued with music and radio recordings lending a period touch to the otherwise non-linear narrative, and the complex set changes were the responsibility of stage manager Ruth Ingamells (Jerusalem) and ASM Alice Skinner, who took charge for the array of antique furniture as well as the revolver used throughout the play.
Marketing such a hard-hitting play is no mean feat either, but marketing director Lily Taylor (James) – who joined the team from her previous role as Broadcast Editor at Cherwell – delivered a powerful campaign that matched the tone of the play, refusing to cave to the temptation of marketing through gimmicks to provide a series of professional imagery, video of key scenes, written previews and video interviews. Invaluable to the design of the campaign was graphic artist Laura Whitehouse (Endgame, Othello) and photographer Oliver Robinson (’Tis Pity, Othello, Jerusalem, James), whose experience with O’Reilly theatre photography is remarkable.
As the final project in a string of successful Oxford plays, the success of Plenty meant a huge amount to producer Andrew Hall. Lessons in staging learned in the confines of BT Studio, in construction from previous O’Reilly shows like ’Tis Pity and Jerusalem, and the naturalistic approach to lighting and sound crucial to the outdoor staging of Othello made the behind-the-scenes effort on this play smooth and powerful. Onstage, many remarked on leaving the theatre that the Plenty cast was one of the strongest they had ever seen.