Of course I’ve heard of Mark Twain, hasn’t everybody? He often turns up on programmes such as ‘Quote, Unquote’ and whenever a witty rejoinder is needed, Twain is one of those names you turn to. However, I know virtually nothing about the man himself – I didn’t even realise that he used a pseudonym, real name being Samuel Langhorne Clemens apparently – and have never read any of his books or plays. However, all that changed last night when I went up to Camden for the first performance of Noah Altshuler’s play The Sawyer Studies at the Etcetera Theatre.
Taking as his inspiration The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Noah has produced three one act plays. Starting with The Engagement, moving to Making The Move and finally The Last Call to Providence. Taken individually, these three short play are really great but together, they produced an hour of real entertainment that really has awoken my interest in Mark Twain’s works.
In The Engagement we meet a young Tom (Thomas Scurr) and Becky (Alexandra Vincent) as they are sitting at their school desks gently flirting with each other. Eventually, young Tom, talks to Becky about engagement and explains what it means. Despite her trepidation, Becky agrees to get engaged and all is going swimmingly until Tom makes, what seems to him, an innocent comment that really puts the cat among the proverbial pigeons. The next story Making the Move involves a teenage boy (Rishi Nair) and girl (Jessica Strawson) trying to work out how to get the first kiss from each other. In doing this, they seek the help of their BFF. As the two sets of friends go through various scenarios, including singing, talking about the future and even pouncing, the audience laughs, cringes and sighs along with the two romantic kids. Finally, and I have to admit my favourite, The Last Call to Providence is set in a funeral. Not just any funeral though. It is Old Tom’s funeral. Listening to the locals give their various eulogies , it seems that Old Tom was a real character in his town, much loved , itf thought of as a trifle eccentric, everyone will miss him. The service itself is being observed not only by those of us in the audience but also by Old Tom (Jorge Franco IV) himself who has taken the unusual step of attending the funeral and is someone who has obviously read Twain’s work before and believes to quote the man himself ‘The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time’ so makes the most of the opportunity to put the record straight for the rest of us. . All told, these were three lovely stories and the cast delivered first rate performances throughout. Director Vicki Baron links the three together beautifully with some excellent musical accompaniment.
As a celebration of Tom Sawyer’s 180th birthday week, The Sawyer Studies is an absolutely fantastic tribute to a great American author. To Quote Mark Twain once more ‘Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.’ For once, Mark is wrong because I know the majority will agree about this play. It is entertaining from start to finish and Noah Altshuler has done a brilliant job in bringing the tales up to date. I really wanted more by the end and could have easily sat for another hour watching these stories unfold. Instead, this fabulous production really sparked my interest and I am off to the library to get hold of a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to keep me company during these cold winter nights.
Review by Terry Eastham
The Sawyer Studies consists of three one act plays inspired by The Adventures of Tom Sawyer written by eighteen year old American playwright Noah Altshuler. Noah is the playwright-in-residence at the Mark Twain House & Museum and has been commissioned by the House to write a full adaptation of Tom Sawyer which will open on Broadway in 2016. The Sawyer Studies deal with teenage romance, true love and how one is destined to be remembered after death. Making the Move plays on Twain’s themes of teenage romance and is the uproarious story of two teenagers agonising over their first kiss. The famous episode in which Tom walks into his own funeral is appropriated in the darkly comic play The Last Call to Providence. Finally, The Engagement directly recreates Tom’s experience of courting his belle Becky. Comical and poignant, this production is suitable for audiences both young and old. The production runs the same week as the 180th anniversary of Mark Twain’s birth.
The Sawyer Studies Cast and Crew
Director: Vicki Baron
Assistant Director: Ashley Davies
Executive Producer: Roger Michel
Musician: Dylan Townley
Cast: Jessica Strawson, Alex Vincent, Thomas Scurr, Rishi Nair
The Etcetera Theatre
above the Oxford Arms
265 Camden High Street
London NW1 7BU
For tickets: Call 020 7482 4857 or email firstname.lastname@example.org