Theatre With Teeth (TWT) is one of the University of Exeter’s theatre companies, and supports student writing by putting their play-writing on as performances through out the year, among other productions such as adaptations and devised work. It gives these students the chance to go through the entire process of creating a play, from the seed of an idea to the final performance in front of an audience.
Sealed was TWT’s second major performance of the Autumn term (after Bright and their Evening of One Act Plays) and was written by Will Jarvis; it was also directed by Jarvis, alongside co-director Niamh Smith. It follows 6 ‘strangers’ who get a mysterious invitation to a house in London, and follows their evening within the house as they try and figure out why they have been asked there. The majority of the first act shows the 6 strangers getting to know each other, trying to guess why they are there and not quite understanding how they are all connected. The real reason for their invitation isn’t revealed until fairly late within the second act after a seventh arrival to the house, ‘Roxy’, appears and starts dropping hints.
Sealed is a touching piece of theatre, which deals with loneliness and the interactions that we have with the different types of people we meet through out our lives, and the way our personalities may change as we grow up. Jarvis has found the interesting balance of creating characters who are individual to each other whilst still being a stereotype of a ‘type’ of person each of us are bound to encounter at some stage in our own lives. It results in a clever dynamic where Jarvis has been able to tap into our perceptions of stereotypes, personalities, and how individuals behave within a group.
There were some excellent moments within Sealed, both through the dialogue and the actors’ performances. Overall, it was a great piece of theatre with as many twists and turns as you could wish for with a mystery, which also managed to find the right balance of comic relief dispersed within what otherwise could have been quite serious, heavy content (especially within the second act). I raise my hat to Jarvis and Smith for finding such a varied and talented cast, and the cast should be very proud of themselves to have put on such a sharp, polished performance in such a short time frame – I’m sure it was a lot of hard work, and it definitely paid off.
Occasionally, however, there were moments where I questioned the reality of Sealed. For instance, I doubted the group’s immediate desire to get drunk with the bottles of wine sitting on a table when they had not yet seen their host; it struck me as odd that this would be a group of strangers’ first unanimous decision. However, as a fellow writer I understand that Jarvis would have found it difficult – within a two-act, hour and a half time frame – to get all and the close relationships or confessions out of a group of strangers without ‘speeding up’ their friendships and openness with some ‘liquid luck’ (wine is very good for that). So these questions of the play’s reality were easy to ignore, and it wasn’t hard to be put back into my suspension of disbelief and enjoy the performance I was watching.
Overall, Sealed was a strong, moving piece of theatre, if in need of a bit of refinement if TWT were to take it any further than the three performances they did in November. Sealed did not automatically strike me as a piece of student writing, nor would I have immediately seen the cast and crew as students either (drama or otherwise). It was such a well-brought-together performance which included slick effects when they were needed, dialogue the performers looked comfortable with, and an obvious sense of chemistry within the group. Just goes to show, students often outshine their stereotype too – and as Sealed proves, we should see people as individuals in order to understand and appreciate all our differences.