Occupied

Harry Buckoke’s Occupied is an intelligent and refreshingly light-hearted dissection of the 2011 occupation of Lady Margaret Hall by students of Cambridge University.

Whilst sympathetic to the Occupy movement, Buckoke is able to look at it and view its problems with a clarity not often shared by his comrades

The conceit of the play is a clever one. A group of students are occupying the theatre in protest against a production of The Producers. The characters are easily identifiable ‘typical lefties': a Wall Street occupier who won’t stop mentioning her activist credentials; an air-headed anarchist; a dreamy hippy songstress; an SWP propagandist. The humour is underpinned by a gentle satire of these archetypes of the left, but there is a serious awareness - perhaps even a sense of weariness - of how the negative public perception of them undermines their cause.

Whilst sympathetic to the Occupy movement, Buckoke is able to look at it and view its problems with a clarity not often shared by his comrades. Aware of how the actions of the Occupiers were viewed by the student body, he is able to tease out the potential for humour arising from contrast between what the Occupiers sometimes naively think of themselves and what the audience might think of them.

Though this large cast seem slightly under-rehearsed and occasionally falter, there is enough energy being exchanged to carry the script. Sometimes the size of the stage seems to affect the blocking, leaving people standing oddly far away from each other, but with the jokes coming with pleasing regularity this isn’t too much of a concern.

The final few minutes are a brave attempt at forum theatre, in which the audience suggests ways the action can develop. This depends heavily on a receptive audience. I was lucky, and the actors seized upon audience suggestions with infectious energy and a clear sense of purpose.

Occupied will definitely be enjoyed by anyone who has come across the Occupy movement, whether in Cambridge or elsewhere, but will also be appreciated as a smart, fun comedy by anyone who happens to wander along.

Reviews by James Macnamara

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Performances

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The Blurb

Students have occupied this theatre. They haven’t got all the answers but at least they’re trying to do something. Occupied is a (hopefully optimistic) comedy about the difficulties of student activism. It won the RSC/Marlowe Society Other Prize for playwriting in 2013 where the judge admitted she was trying to find a less cringe-worthy way of saying this captures the zeitgeist. The Cambridge Student (a newspaper not a real person) thought it was ‘just the right side of patently ridiculous’. It’s got some shouting, some hummus, and someone’s writing worryingly personal protest songs…

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