We Got Rhythm

Mon 13th – Sat 25th August 2012


Thomas Stell

at 02:12 on 16th Aug 2012



Some time in the thirties a play was written by a Nora Ratcliff, a woman about whom very little is known. It was lost and found again in an anthology belonging to a school girl of the seventies. The girl’s son now directs this play, with some alterations, and the title is We Got Rhythm.

It begins with an allegory. The working classes, whom we see going about their jobs and their unremarkable business of living in stylised, simplified lines, are met by Patriotism, who harangues them on the importance of suffrage, democracy and good citizenship. Opposing her is Common Sense, who believes that every man “is a thinking man”, and wants the people not to follow him, but to decide by themselves who to choose as leader. The politicians come on stage and make their speeches. At this point, Patriotism comes back, but as it turns out she is actually the director of the play – all the other characters we have seen are actors in it. What we have been watching was a rehearsal.

The play’s style is typically expressionist. Little is realistic and characters are often parodies of themselves. One of the politician’s slogans is “the blind should lead the blind”, another’s is “the right school tie”. However it is not a good example of work of that movement and period. The allegorical figures are too obviously and directly such to be anything other than dull, and at the end of the play within a play, questions about political systems are dropped and the question of the artist’s concern with politics is assumed hurriedly and worked on clumsily.

It is done about as well as it could have been, and the performances are especially good for a student company. Very slick, and the political speeches are all given with force and a properly exaggerated violence. Danced sequences, “mechanical waltzes” are also quite appropriate, and the march from 'The Love for Three Oranges' was a good choice, though rather an obvious one, for representing the speed and hellishness of the times – world wars, and revolutions.

But I am not sure whether doing this script was a very good decision. It may have been a lost play, but it was a lost play by a forgotten playwright who seems justly forgotten. Auden’s The Dance of Death, for instance, another early modernist piece about society that uses dance and music, would have been better. For those wanting to see good expressionist theatre at this festival, there are productions of Machinal, and the OUDS one at least is very good.


Helena Blackstone

at 09:59 on 16th Aug 2012



This is a production that seems to be fuelled by ideas, but we are given no time to process the overarching one, as it only emerges at the very end. I do think it might have been wiser to choose something simpler for such a short time slot (1/2 hour). The performers were technically good, with mostly enjoyable singing, dancing and acting, but I can’t help but think that they might have chosen something to better than this to show off their talent. 'We Got Rhythm' is an allegorical story with simplistic characters (apparently named things like ‘Idealist’ and ‘Patriot’ in the script) does not allow so much for subtle acting. Most of the piece was of a confused gobbledygook jargon, wherein the actors cry oddly two-dimensional jabber... but then we find out that this is not the real play.

Honestly, I came out thoroughly confused, having been given very little time at the end to process the “real” section of the play. Now I wonder, can I criticise? They themselves mention the strangeness of the dancing in the inside play, within the outer play. Am I to mention the faults of the acting in the inside play? Perhaps it was all an act on purpose. Are we even supposed to process the ideas as being presented seriously in the first play, when it is only a kind of quotation of an art work. I’ve seen plays within plays before, but this was completely dominated by the “play within” rather than the play itself.

After the performance the director tells me that the writer is ungoogleable. Ungoogleable you say?! Yes! Well actually, no. I found the writer. Quite easily. In fact she’s still alive and I assume does not know of her play being unearthed from the bowels of a disused library. What does this mean? Surely someone in the production must know this? Why the added mystery? Are we the play within the play? I’m overreacting but this production left me thoroughly confused. Everything seemed to be not what it was... perhaps you should go and see it yourself. I supposed it’s actually quite intriguing. I retract everything.


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