Tom Myles performs as the main protagonist Ben in James Graham's The Man 

Ambition Is Critical

Critical Ambition is a new theatre company which this month unveils its inaugural production of James Graham’s The Man.

It will be the culmination of a teenage ambition for performer and co-artistic director Tom Myles. For Tom, a recent graduate of the University of Exeter, his love of Graham’s work began while studying Performing Arts at College. ‘I came across my first copy of the play when I was applying for Drama courses’ he says. ‘The plight of Ben, the protagonist, really struck a chord, and I loved the playwright’s simple, effective use of language.’ Due to his age, however, Tom felt he wouldn’t be able to do the character justice at that time, as Ben is in his mid to late 20’s. The play follows his struggle to complete a self-employment tax return form. Along the way, he forms a bond with Lisa, a kindly Inland Revenue employee who helps the socially awkward young man through his tax ordeal. 

For director Dan Jones, also an Exeter alumnus and Tom’s partner in Critical Ambition, the appeal of the piece lies in its unique structure. ‘The exciting thing is that no two performances will ever be the same, as the order of the play changes depending on the audience.’ Audience members will be given a receipt, which Ben will collect as he attempts to decide whether it counts as a valid business expense. ‘Each receipt sparks a different memory from the previous year, some of which are hilarious, others heart-breaking’ says Dan, ‘but the order is always random.’

Critical Ambition began life three years ago at the University of Exeter, where the duo directed and performed in countless fringe productions. ‘The Drama department enabled us to explore different interests and experiment with all genres of performance, from Sophocles right through to Punchdrunk’ explains Dan. ‘The facilities and the number of people eager to collaborate allowed us to find our feet creatively.’ Jon Primrose of the Department of Drama at the University admires the pair’s entrepreneurial spirit, commenting that ‘both contributed a large amount to the performance ethos of the department, both initiating and taking part a number of performances during their time here.’ The pair is joined by another Exeter alumnus, Rob Surman, who is producing the production.

As former members of the prestigious West Glamorgan Youth Theatre Company, whose alumni include Michael Sheen and Russell T. Davies, Tom and Dan were taught by current GradCo directors Vivienne Buckley and Matthew Rees. With Critical Ambition’s inaugural production of The Man, things have come full circle, with Viv and Matt mentoring their first professional collaboration. The tour continues with a performance at the Gate Arts Centre in Cardiff on 4 December, and another two performances taking place in the Exeter Phoenix on Tuesday 9 and Wednesday 10 December. Tickets are available through the Exeter Phoenix website. The tour will finish in London at the Old Red Lion Theatre on the 15 December.

Date: 2 December 2014

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