Proper Clever

Written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
Directed by Serdar Bilis
Liverpool Playhouse (3rd-25th October 2008)

Reviewed by Alison Cornmell

Proper Clever is the first stage play written by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, and tells the story of five fifteen year old friends on the cusp of discovering who they are and what the rest of their life holds. However this group of intelligent teenagers could loose one of their gang to Riley the popular girl in school.

The play started off brilliantly with a sequence depicting a conversation between friends in a chat room, exchanging pictures and expressing their emotions via keyboard emoticons. And the play continued to impress. The first two thirds was funny and intelligent with endearing performances especially from Adam Gillen playing astronomy whizz Matthew.

However things seemed to lose their way, and the story meandered without any particular direction, culminating in quite a bizarre ending. Having said this, the play still has a place and a relevance. I think it will appeal to young adults who will be able to relate to the play and it will spark debate and discussion between friends and classmates.

Because of the themes, motifs and issues covered, the play is very much of our time, perhaps preventing it having any type of timeless quality. This for me is a shame, believing that plays should be able to be returned to in many years time and still be obtainable and ageless.

However, Proper Clever was presented in a new and unusual way, providing laughs and entertainment but unfortunately will not be something I would want to return to.

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Comment left by Robert on 9th October, 2008 at 12:35
I don't understand Alison's objection to a play being of and for its time. The vast majority of dramatic output is precisely that, particularly because theatre is able to respond quickly to events and trends of the time in a way that is accessible to the contemporary audience. I would agree that the true classics of all generations of theatre are those that deal with the universal truths, but all started off as being resonant with their time and written to be relevant to the experience of their contemporary audience. Very ‘modern’ plays can look like they can only have a very short shelf life because they date so quickly, but what is today’s dated play is the next generations historical drama and they can be revisited by future generations and reinterpreted in a way that sparks contemporary resonances. As the BBC realised back in 1970 during what could be considered to be the heyday of television drama, there is an important place in the dramatic repertoire for the Play for Today. This series of productions was a social comment on the times and a place for experimentation. Whilst some of these plays have become classics in their own right, it was the complete canon that had the real importance and impact, engaging new audiences and moving the art form on. New plays are the very lifeblood of theatre and just because they are of and for their time, their ability to reach new audiences, challenge preconceptions and advance drama are in no way diminished. It is vitally important for playwrights to have the freedom to explore themes and experiment, to devise ways of engaging with an audience that is of relevance to them; it is how they learn their craft.

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