I had the idea for Meritocracy from a conversation with Jack Blackwell, who at the time was a first-year War Studies student (he is now in his third year). One of his assignments was to propose solutions for issues surrounding the War in Iraq and address modern terrorism as a whole – a question that seemed quite ambitious to ask a first year university student to answer. He got his mark back with a 1st on his project.
In theory Jack fixed terrorism—as a first year undergraduate.
This got me thinking about the sheer mass of research, sweat, tears, coffee and panic that goes into university coursework for it to be looked over for a few minutes, assigned a grade and forgotten. I wondered what would happen if an undergraduate accidentally started solving world crises with their coursework. I knew this would be excellent terrain for a comedy, but couldn’t work out how to structure the main conflict. I let it sit, got roped into doing an enormous amount of theatre in my second year, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
After directing music—and prancing about— in the King’s Shakespeare Company’s King Lear, I was cast as Uriel in Dan Elliot’s The Ascension of Mrs. Leech (which would certainly have won Best Writing at LSDF 2015 had such an award been offered). We decided to take our efforts to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where we drew five-star reviews from Broadway Baby and FringeGuru and regularly sold-out throughout our month-long run.
I met Alex Morris through Running-a-Mock and he was at that point a member of the Mainstage Troupe. Play pitches for the London Student Drama Festival (LSDF) rolled around again so I asked him if he would be interested in writing Meritocracy with me. We pitched excerpts of the script to the King’s Players, secured a budget of £50, and started to send scenes back and forth over Christmas break.
We auditioned over 75 actors in a single evening to get our cast of six and had to make some very difficult decisions in the process. At the end of it, I don’t think we could have found a more fiercely talented and genuinely lovely group.
Kate Aspinall and Rupert Sadler might as well have been designed in a lab to play our over-achieving professors Bernstein and Hewitt. Their ability to instinctively stop just before going over-the-top still impresses me.
As Imogen and her undependable secretary Owen, Catherine Haslam and George Collecott found moments that could never have been articulated on the page and made them some of the downright funniest exchanges in the show.
James Roberts embodied perfectly the optimistic and erratic energy that Alex and I had set out to capture with Eddie Wright, and Afsana Sayyed (our Dr. Elizabeth Bowman) gave such a brilliantly reactive performance and brought such professionalism to the rehearsal room that I can’t picture anyone else in the role.
Lastly, our tireless musician and sound designer Jaren Feeley, who produced and composed all our music, delivered us a technical polish that glued everything together.
Winning ‘Best Writing’ and ‘Best Direction of a Stellar Ensemble’ at the London Student Drama Festival was a rather humbling experience for me. These accolades are the result of finding an extraordinary team of artists who bring out the best in each other, and we share these titles amongst us all.
I could not be more thankful for the tireless work of every individual involved with Meritocracy over the last few months, from Jake Dessau who designed our poster; John Henderson who gracefully lent us props we could not have purchased with our budget; Katie Edwards and Edward Smyth who offered to record our final performance at 1am the night before; and Isabella Hubbard who marketed our show.
Making theatre is such a uniquely collaborative process, and we owe so much to so many. Most of all, I would like to thank Alex Morris for lending his exceptional comedic instincts and surgically precise wit to the script and rehearsal room – neither would have been half as fun nor brilliant without his presence.
I’d like to think that this is the first of many future plays yet to be written. MeriTWOcracy will be coming soon to a theatre near you.
MeritocraTHREE has been given a greenlight as well.