Six Characters in Search of an Author

Wed 31st July – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Kate Wilkinson

at 01:03 on 4th Aug 2013

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It feels appropriate to approach meta-theatre with a shade of self-awareness. The play was so deconstructed, so commented upon at every turn, essentially so post-modern that there doesn’t seem to be much left for the critic to do.

The premise is a panicking theatre group rehearsing a play. Thus, when it comes to the sound and lighting, if anything went wrong it would be impossible to know. Both were sporadic and were at one with the increasingly frantic stage manager, the clunky and deliberate scene changes and even the participation of the technical director at the back of the stage. Any kind of glitch could have easily passed as an instance of deliberate randomness.

While the glitchy music would seem in tune with the chaotic and unstructured play rehearsal, it would play more emphatically during moments of heightened emotion creating an eerie atmosphere. In this way, the play was consistently inconsistent.

The central action unfolds with increasing intensity from the moment that the six eponymous characters enter the scene, much to the bemusement of the director. The melodrama and theatricality of these characters contrasted interestingly with the casual naturalism of the cast and crew. Gradually, a human- as well as the intellectual- interest emerged as shameful truths made their painful way out.

The most striking performance for me came from Robbie Aird as the father who managed to balance a naturalistic directness with the melodrama of his story. Despite the surrounding absurdity Aird was utterly believably and a truly tragic character. As the stepdaughter, Victoria Fell maintained a pretty constant tone of hysteria throughout and so her character failed to develop. However, going back to my point that this play evades criticism, I have to be wary of making such evaluative judgements since these misgivings may well be deliberate. At one point the father explains to the director that they are characters who are tragically fixed; who are ‘written alive but cannot live’. Thus it may well be that the stepdaughter is simply written that way. The mother played by Olivia Stocker is likewise monotonal; the frail image of a teary-eyed, grieving mother. In fairness, neither two characters had lines anywhere near as good as the father or even the director who at one point memorably states, ‘this is the theatre, the truth can only go so far’.

As my first experience of meta-theatre, I found it deeply destabilising- which I suppose is the point- and the cast pulled off the ambitious play with varying success.

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Anjali Joseph

at 09:02 on 4th Aug 2013

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This reimagining of Pirandello’s Six Characters was confidently acted, from Sam Rayner’s gurning Lead Actor, through to Robbie Aird’s teeth-clenching Father. The pulsing background soundtrack of trip-hop, the white stage make-up and the eerie faceless puppets that took the place of the Boy and the Little Girl served to reinforce the sense of metatheatre, providing a useful means of initially establishing the difference between the characters and the ‘real’ people in the chaos of the first few scenes.

Nevertheless, there is always a difficulty when reviewing shows such as this in determining which aspects are highly stylised and which are the products of flaws in the performances of individual actors. The role of the Director, played by Saul Boyer, was a parody of pretentious thesps, all flailing arms and meaningless platitudes about “intention” and was, for the most part, well depicted. However, occasionally Boyer’s interpretation moved beyond the acceptable limits of caricature, and vocally he was sometimes a little heavy-handed, occasionally lapsing into just shouting about his confusion. Victoria Fell’s Stepdaughter, which ranged from madwoman in the attic to vulnerable child, showed flashes of brilliance, but tended to be over-acted and emotionally unconvincing, as did Olivia Stocker’s Mother, whose fake crying genuinely began to grate as the performance progressed. Julian Mack’s performance as the Son at times felt a bit binary, going from zero to full-blown shouting in a matter of seconds, but with little sense of simmering tension underpinning it.

Despite these shortcomings, this version of Six Characters was effective and funny. The stand-out performance was undoubtedly Aird’s portrayal of the Father, whose rolling eyes, perpetually tense jaw and borderline creepy intensity of gaze contributed to the general sense of unease and frustration which preceded the emotional climax of this production. There a beautifully tense moment, in which the audience were palpably on the edge of their seats, voyeuristically hoping to witness the depraved act between Father and Stepdaughter. Perhaps a product of time limits, the moment at which the boundary between reality and illusion disappeared did feel a little rushed. Nevertheless, director Arti Banerjee captured the absurdism in Pirandello’s play, creating an overall performance which was both funny and unsettling.

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