Hide and Seek

Mon 8th – Sat 13th August 2011


David Knowles

at 08:20 on 11th Aug 2011



Before sitting down to watch the play it’s fair to say that my day had not gone splendidly; revelations that my home town had been burnt down and looted and a day flyering in rain of biblical proportions did not leave me in a receptive or theatrical frame of mind. I was quite prepared to dislike whatever Niles North Theatre presented immensely. Happily however, I was pleasantly charmed by this dainty production from Illinois.

The production focused around the use of masks in performance. As the blurb said they ‘wanted to challenge and expand the actors’ skills of physical characterisation.’ In its own context I have to say that the production succeeded. The actors did indeed explore and display a variety of very physical characters. Sophie Scanlon in particular displayed an understanding of physical theatre that made her stand out even among her talented peers. Microphones were also used intelligently by the actors to add sounds to the scenes. The masks themselves were well designed and portrayed a number of varied emotions.

Unfortunately I had a few large problems with this production as a whole, first of all that the show lacked any sort of depth. Rather than creating characters, too many of the actors simply played the emotion on the mask which lead to stereotypical characters; the angry husband, the promiscuous doctor etc. The real challenge when using masks is to create real characters with a range of emotions and unfortunately this did not really happen with any of the actors (although Miss Scanlon again came closest). Furthermore clever ideas like the microphones were underused. Another problem was that the show was simply not challenging enough. Within the first ten minutes I had written all the notes I needed to. We knew the actors were good physically and could portray emotions in an amusing manner but they never progressed beyond that. I would have liked to see a much more challenging play done badly than what I saw; a competent and slick high school production but nothing more.


Ellen Marsh

at 08:44 on 11th Aug 2011



Masks are central to Hide and Seek, Niles North’s Theatre’s contribution to the American High School Theatre Festival. No actor’s face is visible in its entirety throughout the production, and each actor plays several characters, depicted by different masks. Removing the actors’ use of facial expression causes them to rely entirely on the use of their bodies and gesture – something these actors do very well. The masks themselves are wonderful creations by David Knezz, each clearly defining the character they represent, and the actors respond well to these characters when accompanying the masks with appropriate movements.

The problem with the masks, particularly those that cover an actor’s entire face, is that they are set in a single expression, creating a one-dimensional character that makes it difficult for the actors to demonstrate a range of emotions within one scene. However, the physical acting displayed here can almost make you forget that the masks are there, though the limitations become clearer when a scene goes on for too long, as many of them do. Cutting some scenes by a minute or so would ensure the masks retained their impact, rather than losing it as the scene continues.

In some scenes the company uses two microphones on either side of the stage to provide sound effects for the action. This effect seemed under-used, especially as the actors were very well-rehearsed, the action matching the sound perfectly and often to great comic effect, ‘Afternoon with Grandpa’ being a particularly good example. The use of music was less successful, looped pieces were played repeatedly throughout a scene in order to create tone, but, like the masks, the music could only offer one mood and so sometimes worked against the narrative of the scene and the tonal shifts within it.

Hide and Seek is not a ‘play’ – more a series of scenes with a vague narrative linking them together. As the actors are limited to the use of gesture and body language, this can occasionally be difficult to follow, but the general sense is clear enough. The tone is comic, apart from one scene, ‘Marriage’, which is performed in complete silence, with no music or sound effects. This scene depicts the abusive relationship between two of the central characters and demonstrates the potential these actors have to use their physicality for drama as well as comedy. It would be very interesting to see what this company could do with more serious, dramatic material using their masks. Special mention must go to Sophie Scanlon, who created clearly defined characteristics and mannerisms for each mask, and who it would be great to see faced with more challenging material.

Hide and Seek is an interesting and charming piece that forces these young actors to be confident using their bodies onstage, and they rise to this, ably demonstrating their talent, but there is a sense that they could have been given more challenging material and so created an experience even more memorable for the audience.


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