As a STEM student I am unused to spending much time in the presence of those who do humanities, but that is how I spent my Thursday evening – with four English graduates, an English professor and her fiancé to be exact. Such Entanglements and Carnage is a dark-comedy play, which ran from the 9 to 13 May, in the Burton Taylor Studio. It was written by Savanna Leboff, directed by Jude Willoughby, and produced by Megan Kavanagh. 

The play opens with Alma (Esme Rhodes), in the living room of her parents’ cabin, as she fantasises about spending the next few days with her fiancé. She describes the bedroom they will share (how scandalous!): a bright yellow room, symbolising her hopes for their happy future, which brings up personal unpleasant memories of English lessons and colour symbolism. Rhodes maintains an underlying air of stress whilst outwardly presenting as calm until the final scene of the play – the ability to subtly hint at Alma’s emotional state without overtly showing it, was very impressive.

Her fiancé Castor (Tom Freeman) enters, seeming like a stereotypical posh boy – we soon find out he is actually a gardener and a rather snooty accent is dropped for a more endearing West Country accent. I was slightly worried that there would be a power imbalance between Alma and Castor, since they seem to belong to very different backgrounds and some fiction tends to capitalise on this imbalance for drama, but was pleasantly surprised to find this was not the case as they seem to love and respect each other. Both Alma and Castor are matching in yellow, which was a nice touch – my English teacher would say it shows how deeply connected they are, but my STEM heart thinks it’s just cute to match. 

A knock at the door interrupts the rather adorable couple – I wasn’t jealous at all – and in floats Daphne (Katie Rennie), a former student of Alma’s. She wears a flowy dress and could be described as the “it girl” of the 40s – she is very confident and self assured, and friendly as she greets Alma and Castor. Throughout the play, Rennie successfully avoids portraying Daphne as conceited or pretentious, instead presenting her as a woman who is secure in herself. Daphne discusses her thoughts on a book she recently read – a wealthy, upper class woman marries an ordinary man who is “below her station”, which is identical to Alma’s own situation; however she should not be blamed for falling for the very loveable and endearing Castor.  

Another knock at the door, and yet another student – this time the tall and striking Leopold (Jeremi Litarowicz) – enters. He brags about his summer and his club’s success and is very reminiscent of every man who is too fond of his own voice. Litarowicz towers above the rest of the cast and uses this to his advantage consistently, making sure to stand too close to the others and look down at them during interactions – it successfully cements Leopold as a dislikeable character without being too heavy handed.  

However, we need not be put off by Leopold for too long as we are soon introduced to Lance (I-Cenay Trim) and Laurie (Sebastian Morson). They are a delightful little double act, as they try to win Daphne’s affections, especially when they attempt to recreate the look Romeo may have given Juliet when he believes she has died, after Daphne admits that Romeo and Juliet is the epitome of romance for her. I mean, who wouldn’t want a man who would die rather than live without you; truly the bare minimum. I particularly enjoyed Lance slipping off the sofa onto the floor, and playing it off by posing seductively for the rest of the scene; it really highlighted Trim’s physical comedy and ability to adapt smoothly to unexpected situations. Morson’s portrayal of Laurie was a nice contrast to Lance, without being complete opposites – he is equally interested in Daphne’s attention but is not as extravagant in his behaviour. The boys also arrived with a single suitcase; I couldn’t help but wonder if they are closer than they let on, or if their competition for Daphne may have more to do with impressing each other instead – this is never answered as they continue their rivalry and focus on Daphne.  

Suspicions begin to arise once Daphne confesses to the others that Castor is not a former student as they have been led to believe, but instead a private investigator hired by Alma – questions are plentiful as they wonder what, or whom, he is here to investigate. The lie felt a little bit unrealistic, as it would not be my first choice of explanations – we can forgive that since this is fiction. The discussion, however, will have to wait as Alma and Castor reappear, and declare that everyone should begin to get ready for dinner. Characters pass through the living room, under blue light, in various states of dress while dramatic music plays. 

Lance and Laurie, in their infatuation-addled states, decide that poisoning Daphne’s medication, then proceeding to drink the poisoned medicine themselves, is the perfect way to win her over; if Romeo did it, clearly it must be a good idea. Despite independently, and without the others’ knowledge, deciding to poison Daphne, they both recite snippets of Romeo and Juliet while completing the act, which really highlighted how similar the two were. However, they still manage to remain distinct in their behaviours – Laurie seems very earnest and almost puppyish, while Lance comes across as more confident as he winks at the audience, as if we are all co-conspirators in his secret plan

Alma enters and removes the vinyl from the record player, simultaneously stopping the music and changing the light back to a warm white, which I was very impressed by. Despite their differences a few moments ago, Lance and Laurie converge again with twin looks of shock as they hear the others decide poisons are the perfect topic of conversation. It reminded me slightly of the brief period of time where, after watching The Truman Show, I felt as if everyone knew all my secrets, so I was very sympathetic to their shock. 

Things begin to heat up as Leopold accuses Daphne of being the target of Castor’s investigation, leading her to storm off in tears as Lance and Laurie follow. He then decides this is the perfect opportunity to “propose” to Alma, despite being well aware of her engagement to Castor. The proposal itself is barely even a proposal, and more of a self-serving monologue full of liberal praise for his own intellect and appearance. Alma rejects him – truly such a mystery as to why – and he decides to take a wine bottle from his suitcase and storm off, leaving his suitcase out on the floor. 

Daphne and her entourage re-enter, and Daphne decides to take her medicine. She promptly passes out after a bout of intense choking and a very delicate swoon – the contrast between the two really lightened the mood; both expressions were overdramatic. Neither of the boys seem surprised, leading them to realise they both poisoned the medicine, but begin to panic after realising she is actually dead. Lance decides to down the rest of the poisoned medicine, passing out in a very dramatic manner, while Laurie is left to figure out how to break the news to Alma (his sister!).

Leopold decides to knock Laurie into the table, who hits his head and promptly dies. I can’t help but wonder if all their focus on fictional romance has led to them losing their chance at real love – if they hadn’t decided to copy Romeo and Juliet, romance may have been close on their horizon. Leopold, perhaps out of genuine guilt or in an attempt to be poetic, props up Laurie’s body next to Daphne’s, telling him to rest with his “Juliet”. While leaving, he trips over his suitcase, hits his head on the floor and joins the others in their lifeless state. It seems like their deaths were all predicted by previous conversations between the characters – Castor joked about Leopold tripping over his suitcase, and Daphne was compared to Juliet while Lance and Laurie wanted to be her Romeo – which makes it seem like an inevitable tragedy. 

Now, only the happy couple remain, who face a room full of their dead guests as the cook, who Alma has been waiting for since the beginning of the play, finally arrives, remarking on the overly dramatic nature of literature students – are they all still alive, or has she truly not noticed the lifelessness? The contrast between the utter nonchalance of the cook and the couple’s reactions provided a bit of levity to the situation, but it felt a bit lacklustre after the dramatic tone of the rest of the play – the very relaxed manner of the cook contrasted too much with the quick succession of deaths and the drama accompanying them for my liking, and seemed like an attempt to simply tie up all the loose ends. Perhaps leaving the cook as a referenced character who never appears may have fit the play better, or even ending with her knocking on the door may have been more fitting. 

I really enjoyed the play – as did the friend who accompanied me – and think the balance required for a dark comedy was masterfully maintained throughout. I’d rate it a 4/5 as I thoroughly enjoyed Such Entanglements and Carnage, but found the ending slightly ill-fitting in comparison to the rest of the play.