Rusty Clockwork

Photo: Helen Miller

Venue 1, Tuesday 6th Nov

Clockwork, written and directed by Alex Mullarky is the newest student written drama to be performed in St Andrews. Held in Venue One, the story follows a young English captain (played by Cooper Goldman) stationed in a French village towards the end of WWI. The set was necessarily minimalist with the changing of scene indicated only by the actors standing in a different area of the stage, generating an eerie simplicity which served as a barren landscape reminiscent of the WW1 battlefield, creating a blank canvas on which to paint its message.

The message however possessed no coherency. It tried to be everything at once: a commentary on the nightmarish nature of war, a coming of age tale, a romance, and a fantasy. The result was a conglomeration of one subplot after another with the main storyline nearly impossible to discern. Perhaps most bizarre was the title plot, that of a young man who wanted to be a clockmaker, which was relegated to little more than an afterthought and was an all too convenient tool to tie the confused threads together.

Characterisation suffered due to the lack of focus. Goldman’s character was unlikeable in his inconsistency. His reactions were robotic with the occasional bursts of melodrama that were more bewildering than poignant.  A bright spot was Caterina Giammarresi who delivered an understated performance as Manon, the pretty boulangerie owner whose plucky optimism was punctuated by the occasional glimpse into her closely guarded pain. Her emotional depths were beautiful, managing to delicately portray the devastation of war without tumbling into the trap of melodrama.

The familiarity between officers and their subordinates rang false, which may seem a comparatively small gripe. However, in a play that seemed to be striving towards gritty emotional realism, glaring inaccuracies such as this made the suspension of disbelief almost impossible. The only exception was Lewis Harding as Major Peat. His startling shifts in tone and emotion from the abrupt harshness of commanding fellow soldiers to a gruff but gentle manner with Manon added an intricacy to his performance that was effective. Another standout was Calder Hudson whose twitchy mannerisms as the inexperienced soldier, Bailey, provided an effective physical contrast to Goldman’s stoicism.

The real problem consistent in Clockwork was not the actors performances, but the material they were given. The characters were not allowed to develop naturally and were told rather than shown. Though certain aspects of the story were compelling on their own, there were simply too many elements, and their proper development suffered as a consequence.


  1. The Saint, as a student-written paper, really ought to be more tactful in their assessment of other forms of student writing. A negative review is a negative review, but 1. judging a play by the writing does not review the performance and 2. if you are going to critique a student writer it should be done constructively.

    This article shows an absolute ignorance of the courage it takes to take something as personal as creative writing and bear it to the community at large. In doing so is only going to make student writers more timid about bringing their work forward and this is an enormous loss to the community of St Andrews.

    In the future, I advise The Saint to try and be constructive in their criticism instead of completely cutting. A bad review is a bad review, but try to present some sort of advice for the show instead of destroying the efforts of a student writer without any constructive advice.

    I am incredibly disappointed with the standard of reporting and the approach to student theatre this article conveys.

  2. While most of the points within this review are conducive to a theater review’s purpose, one sentence (which, unfortunately, seems to be the central dogma of the review) stands out:

    “The real problem consistent in Clockwork was not the actors performances, but the material they were given.”

    I think it is fair to say that (as its title suggests) this is a negative review; that in of itself should by no means be problematic. There’s no reason that any student working for a St Andrews news source should ever feel unable to write negative feedback on other students’ work. When critiquing a show, however—regardless of whether the critique is positive or negative—attention ought to focus upon the play’s performance, not on the play’s script.

    Perhaps the fact that Clockwork is student-written opens it to this criticism, but on the whole such reproach does little to address the show’s production. Centering a review upon the notion that “the tech and drama were fine, but the base-material is bad” gives no focus to any individuality on the techs’, actors’, or directors’ behalf. To use an example: if, in a review of Just So’s production of HAIR earlier this year, a reviewer wrote that “the real problem was not the actors’ performances, but rather the material they were given” the review would come across as absurd! It would in no way be specific to Just So’s production, but instead be directed at HAIR’s plot and thematic integrity—elements over which students have little control.

    Such commentary gives a review superficial depth; the criticism is not unique to the production in any way, but also makes the review completely unconstructive. A cast and crew should be able to take notes from critics, but no self-respecting critic should blame a cast for their script. To do so implies that the effort exerted by those involved with the show was, for the most part, irrelevant, as the show would be poor even if delivered with flawless finesse.

    I hope my comments do come across as abrasive or petulant; my intent isn’t to denounce, but instead to point out why this review may have received harsher responses from previous readers. It is a shame said readers have been so confrontational; while I understand their concerns, there is little to be gained from fighting fire with fire. As aforementioned, nobody should ever feel writing a negative review is unacceptable; with that said, reviews should aim to be constructive instead of simply opinionated. This way, complaints can be of benefit to their targets.

  3. To me, the play was beautiful, extremely well written, directed and acted. And to me, the plot was extremely coherent.
    I can’t help feeling that you’ve completely missed the point of the show…
    Maybe you expected a traditional plot with an obvious beginning, middle and end, rather than a commentary on someone’s experiences of being in the trenches.

    The plot was coherent, (or perhaps I’ve missed something.)
    The play followed the character Will, whose heart lay in following his grandfather’s footsteps of being a clockmaker. WW1 changed this and he was forced into the trenches. Here his experiences altered him, making him cold and cut off from those around him.
    This changed through an encounter with Manon.
    This was not presented as a romance, rather than a reliance which Will put upon her, the first person which had managed to get through to him.
    Gradually his guard came down, and he became more human towards those around him, as the story counted down to the final push into no-mans land, and his ultimate death.

    The heart-wrenching, poignant moments were counteracted with beautiful bursts of humour.
    In my opinion, it was extremely well written and judged by the writer.


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