I never go to Aikman’s, but when I do I always hate going down to the cellar bar most. For me it feels too bunker-like; the air feels claustrophobic and sweaty, the seating manages simultaneously to be awkwardly intimate and socially impractical, and the people around me always seem to be effortlessly cooler than me in a rather intimidating manner. For these exact reasons, People You Know’s choice to host their most recent show, Rat Race - a show where “tensions rise over a game of poker, the guys keep upping the stakes to prove who has it best” in this very venue was inspired, I didn’t even lament my lack of curly fries that much.
People You Know Productions are slowly but surely establishing themselves within the ecosystem of St Andrews theatre. Their showcase at the end of the last academic year, and time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival have given them a strong momentum, and given audiences high expectations. This semester, their two shows A Girl gets Naked in This and Rat Race have continued in the young company’s dissection of youth, sexuality, power, and predation to great success.
In Rat Race, the performances in particular were incredibly strong. Every actor delivered an impressively naturalistic portrayal, which fit seamlessly with the immersive set and text’s focus on real-world issues and people. The two leads, Freddie Lawson’s Jack and Sacha Murray-Threipland’s Dylan, were dynamic lightning rods for the building tension of the script, and the comedic relief offered by Buster Van Der Geest’s Finn, Matthew McCaffrey’s Mickey, and Max Fryer’s Paul was thoroughly engaging - presenting the audience with a whole range of captivating, if questionable, men.
Lexie Dykes’ Beth was a suitable counter-weight for the heightened masculinity of the show, her character stuck out not just for her gender, but also her attitude. Whilst there was a point where it seemed every character would rather be anywhere but in the bar, Beth’s uncompromising demeanour set her apart from her cohort in a very intriguing way. In a room full of men telling you who they were - unafraid, obstinate, really rich and, like, super cool - Beth was the only one bold enough to actually seem comfortable hating their circumstance and dynamic. Though undermined in her relationship to Dylan, she gives as good as she gets in an understated yet unmissable way.
Though, as already stated, the choice of venue was incredibly smart, there were notable practical issues with staging the show in the manner they did. Though a great effort was made to make the actors visible when it counted - having their asides given while walking around and making direct eye contact, having those currently up to bat tend to stand as they deliver their lines - the unstaggered manner in which the cellar’s seating is arranged made it at times difficult to fully enjoy the show. The popularity of the performance made the issue of strained view more intense as the audience was somewhat on top of each other, however I would like to emphasise immediately that these are nitpicks; it would be completely unreasonable to expect anything more from a young theatre company. These were minor issues which detracted minimally due to the team’s direction and consideration, it just felt necessary to note being that seating shuffling and eyeline concerns were prominent enough that their omission would feel ingenuine.
Overall, Rat Race is yet another splendid display from St Andrew’s own People You Know. Catherine Barrie’s dynamic writing and Daisy Patterson’s thoroughly impressive ingenuity as director have merged together to create a thoroughly unique theatre going experience. I imagine this will not be the last we see of the show, and if they ever poke their heads out in the future, maybe the Fringe, definitely go see the show. But, for the meantime, the rats put on an amazing show, rivalled only by the rats in St Mary’s car park, who sing to me on my smoke breaks from work.