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Freshers (24:7 Festival)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Venue: New Century 1

Steve Pearce's Freshers is one of the more refreshing plays to reach Manchester for some time. It opens with a classic comic scene, based at university. On her first day Hephzibah (Christine Clare) stumbles into the wrong bedroom - occupied by Miles (Richard Hand).

We then eavesdrop on their conversation and learn about their differing attitudes to life. Although the suggestion that the world is simply too big for small people to change gives a defeatist impression the play is inspirational in the way it demonstrates the modest, but wonderful things that can be achieved by individuals.

The couple's faltering steps towards romance in the opening scene contrast with a meeting decades later as Miles and his alienated daughter Scarlett (Laura Danielle Sharp) try to resolve their conflicted feelings about the suicide of Hephzibah.

Director James Blakey delivers an unfussy production that enhances the clarity of the script and allows the performances to shine. Sharp brings a level of maturity to the role of Scarlett demonstrating the effect of the pain which the young woman has endured. The sparkling performance of Clare shows the sheer joy that  Hephzibah gets out of life so that it becomes heartbreaking to contemplate the suffering that forced her to bring it to an end. Hand subtly ages Miles by decades moving away from an insecure student to a convincing father.

Freshers is an intimate play and we come to know the characters in some depth. It becomes clear that the central issue is not the morality of helping a loved one end a life that has become too painful to endure but, simply whether you could bring yourself to commit such an act.

There is a refreshing absence of recrimination in the play. The alienation of Miles and Scarlett has its basis in shared grief and loss rather than blame so that their reconciliation is both convincing and welcome.

The world may be a very big place but, in a small way, Freshers makes it a  better one.

-Dave Cunningham

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