In the opening tableau, the stage is littered with a collection of bodies sprawled all over the stage, all paper white overalls and unsettling masks. A collection of discarded or potential ideas surround the image of a writer: knitted jumper, wiry frame, prop typewriter. And he is very much only the image of a writer; for in this determinedly metatheatrical creation, even the 'writer' discovers that he is beholden to someone else's script. Chaos takes hold of the play as one of the characters breaks free and refuses to follow the script, gradually inspiring wider mutiny amongst the others.
A few bright, witty moments of writing confirm that there’s a better play to be found in there somewhere.
Novel Experiments in Living is packed with the germs of intriguing ideas: about social and actual determinism; about identity and the creative process; about love and the stories we tell ourselves. Do I only like The Smiths because I think I'm the sort of person who should like The Smiths, or do I actually like them? Whose script are we following, at any one point in time? With our parents, race, and so many other factors determined for us, can we claim to author our own lives at all?
But whilst writer-director Rob Paterson’s script tries very hard to make you think, these ideas feel drawn out whilst being underdeveloped. Though full of questions, the play is not able to make its answers anything more than dissatisfying. Novel Experiments in Living’s winking self-awareness, too, often feels a little off: characters call each other out for spouting “Philosophy for Beginners” in lieu of real insight, but the play unironically spends the rest of its runtime doing exactly that. It’s all just not quite as clever as it wants to be.
None of this is helped by spotty sound work. Scenes of ostensible emotional import and dramatic intrigue were drowned out by generic suspense music. Also, an oddly loud scribbling sound effect (signalling on-the-fly script changes) was overused, and wholly unnecessary; we could see that someone was writing the script without needing to hear the speaker-blasted scratching accompanying a normal-sized pen. These kinds of details aren’t disasters per se, but they don’t help; and this lack of refinement typifies the play as a whole.
With a number of rewrites, Novel Experiments in Living might have morphed into something more worthwhile: a few bright, witty moments of writing confirm that there’s a better play to be found in there somewhere. As it stands, however, it’s less a polished final product, more a flawed, if mildly interesting, experiment.