Review: Provok'd: A Restoration, Guildhall School of Music and Drama

It’s a tricky time to be a final year drama school student. With showcases cancelled, final shows indefinitely postponed and the theatre world at a standstill, the future is very much unknown. One thing that is certain, the industry’s sympathy is very much on the side of these new actors. As part of the lockdown effort, Guildhall School of Music and Drama have released Provok’d: A Restoration for free and streaming for a limited time only, showcasing their final year actors.

Provok’d: A Restoration begins with a group of actors preparing to rehearse their restoration comedy scenes without their lecturer. Inspired by a Kendrick Lamar concert and Fellini’s bemusing film Orchestra Rehearsal, director Jamie Bradley nimbly weaves classic comedy scenes with electric rap compositions. Chaos ensues and the stages explodes in a whirlwind of energy, style and fantastically current writing.

Opening with a casual scene, we are welcomed into a rehearsal-type space with actors working through vocal warm ups and chatting to their fellows. Filmed in 360°, the online audience have the freedom to dictate their own view. Whilst this is truly immersive and a slightly mind-blowing element, you don’t want to be missing the action.

Now for those who are not up to scratch with their knowledge of 17th century comedies, fear not. Within the age of Hamilton, rap is becoming more popular as a theatrical device that bypasses thought and delivers straight to the heart of the audience, whilst being technically intricate and informative. This piece is no different. 

Restoration comedy is a social commentary of the time, a key function of theatre in general. With each classical scene there is a paralleling rap or musical segment, including slick choreography from Vicki Igbokwe, which highlight the company’s reflection of the 17th century work. With nods to both past and present, the two styles work harmoniously within Jess Curtis’ colourful design.

Charged with opinions on female empowerment, toxic masculinity and race, the personalities and voices of these performers shine through. The lines between actor and character do feel slightly blurred but the classical scenes are played with pace and flair. It’s a true insight into what it means to be a drama student with witty competitive moments of double casting, the studious discovery of knowledge and the ongoing reflection on the history of theatre.

Provok’d: A Restoration functions as a theatrical discussion. Commenting on the classical scenes, the performers declare “Mirror mirror on the wall, I can’t see myself at all.” How can these modern performers be on board with a style that they can’t relate to or believe in? With themes or subjects feeling destructive and suffocating this solid ensemble make it clear that they can present ideas without celebrating them. The time for change is now and the world will be listening to what these freshly graduated drama students have to say. 

Provok’d: A Restoration first premiered in November 2019, and is now streaming online until 15 May 2020. For more information and to stream, see the Guildhall School of Music and Drama website.