This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub and published here.
Written by Roxy Dunn
Directed by Chris Head
10th June 2017
Do we make our own luck? This story of two friends who have their fortunes told at a festival, and live the next ten years under the shadow of the predictions, explores just that question. Roxy Dunn’s strait-laced Libby wants to be a writer, but is told she’ll end up broke and alone, while the more relaxed Sam (the expressive Alys Metcalf of The Play That Goes Wrong) receives a glowing prediction of success. Will they become self-fulfilling prophecies, or will the young women make a different future for themselves?
In fact, there’s a time-hopping, Sliding Doors-style twist to the tale, which sees the friends live out the consequences of their fortunes in three different ways. Meanwhile, yet another narrative layer has Dunn (who wrote the play) breaking the fourth wall to tell us po-facedly about the creative process behind what we’re watching.
What sells this mish-mash of concepts is Metcalf’s energetic, likable performance. Her face contains multitudes: it’s astonishingly good when she dons nothing more than a pair of glasses and immediately embodies a new, totally different character. Dunn is mostly her straight-woman, but the changing friendship dynamics between the pair are subtly true-to-life.
Packing three plotlines and an underlying meta-narrative into an hour means the comedy suffers: there’s little to laugh about until the criss-crossing stories start to echo each other and the ‘meta’ sections bleed into the ‘real’ play. Some obligatory millennial gags about orgasms and Brazilian waxing barely raise a titter from the (mostly un-millennial) audience. It’s a joyous relief when Metcalf finally gets to use her physical comedy talents as she starts to sabotage Dunn’s theatrical intentions.
In Tents and Purposes is trying desperately to explore free will, friendship and how we create and define success. However, it’s hampered by poor pacing. The opening is bogged down in extraneous plot details like a festivalgoer in mud, delaying the onset of the (much funnier and cleverer) time-travelling middle, and the ending is rushed over in the last two minutes. We’re left with no time to reflect on the central friendship, either in the story or the ‘real’ world.
Sadly this bizarre structure, along with the cheap jokes, detracts majorly from the funny and interesting ideas in the play. Both Metcalf and Dunn are up-and-coming comedy talents who give strong performances, and Dunn’s writing shows promise. But ultimately, this feels like half the show it could be.
Star rating: **.5 Funny but unstructured