If You're Glad, I'll be Frank

Mon 12th – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Frank Lawton

at 10:20 on 14th Aug 2013

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However this show made me feel, I was always going to be Frank and to be frank this show didn’t exactly make me glad for seeing it, but then again neither did it make me feel as though I’d wasted my time in seeing it. For this performance by MCS Drama of one of Stoppard’s lesser known plays has its high notes, but unfortunately has them playing alongside some rather flat ones too. The cast aren’t helped enormously by the script, which is essentially Stoppard riffing on Kafka with a few jokes thrown in, rather akin to Status Quo trying to improve a Hendrix lick and laughing as they get it wrong. There is a reason why this is one of his less performed works.

The play’s central pre-occupation is with time, and is set in the telephone office which connects people to a number of services, chief among them being the talking clock whom it transpires is Gladys (played by Victoria Long), the lost wife of the searching Frank (Callum Morris). Gladys bewails how those controlling her ‘don’t know what time is, they haven’t experienced the silence’, and by logical extension nor do we, for the performance is sound-tracked by an initially unnerving “tick-tock” which quickly blends into an unquestioned aural background, refusing silence the chance to breath.

Staging and production are undoubtedly this piece’s fortes, especially considering the play was written initially for radio; the cast are set in an open circle (resembling the points of a clock) with a desk-cum-interrogation lamp planted beside each seat while Gladys sits perched centre stage atop a structure of crossed metallic beams, a folly upon a false pedestal. The cast is smartly choreographed, with group movements like the telephone may-pole scene being among the most successful moments, the disconcerting conformity of an institution brought to the fore in the sinister symbiosis of the cast’s footsteps.

This good work is sometimes let down by the acting which, although competent on the whole, does on occasion pull punches it could be landing. Gladys’ delivery is rather one-track, her standard expression being an anguished face shadowed by a half-smile, which doesn’t always do justice to the emotional variation of her lines, while Frank similarly falls foul of over-pitching certain moments, resulting in a dulling of his character’s emotional range. The best performance comes from a member of the supporting cast, Ivy (Rochelle Silva), whose facial nuances and expressive eyes mark her out from among the cast.

Is this time-obsessed play worthy of your precious time? I could think of worse ways to spend my time. Then again I could think of better ways…

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Alex Wilson

at 11:24 on 14th Aug 2013

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With the two words ‘Tom Stoppard’ attached, 'If you’re glad, I’ll be Frank is bound to draw attention', but as with much of Stoppard’s work, emotion and a sense of humanity sometimes seem sacrificed to intellectual content. This is particularly pertinent in this rarely-staged one-act play. The comic narrative in which Frank attempts to rescue his wife Gladys the speaking clock sits beside contemplation about the nature of time, neither strand of which is entirely coherent, nor developed. This is, of course, not the fault of the actors, although it does pose especial obstacles, with which I’m afraid this production did not deal terribly effectively.

The overall aesthetic of the show was appropriate but underwhelming. Being about time and clocks, the staging, movement and sound were dominated by a sense of the mechanical. Centre stage was Gladys perched on a large ramshackle metal structure, while the other actors marched about robotically with colourful telephones on their shoulders. This robotic movement was rather monotonous – which, I suppose was the idea – but there was little done to reflect the shifts in Gladys’ monologues about her suffering and musings about time. This monotony would have been more acceptable if the movement routine had been more imaginative, which it emphatically was not, and there were, alas, a smattering of moments of awkward stumbling. On the other hand, the one element of Gladys’ monologue chosen to be physically embodied was a dance - an arbitrary choice which afforded no extra meaning to the words. There was, however, a well-judged contrast of kitsch, camp acting from the telephone operators during interludes in Gladys’ speech.

The actors made a decent attempt at authenticity, though Frank was enthusiastically done if somewhat overacted, while Gladys’ passionate sadness was rather generic, rendered solely in a constant quivering voice. Energy, I have to say, despite the physicality of the performance, was lacking, owing in part to the impression that the spectacle remained static, though individual actors were often moving. The slow pace was unfortunate, more so because the resolution felt unsatisfying – to be fair, that was probably a joint effort of both actors and Stoppard.

On the whole, the performance was reasonably slick, but, in fear of being hyper-critical, rather unremarkable. Perhaps, my greatest criticism, though, was a continual internal questioning through the course of the play of what it wanted us to take away from it. For me that elusive thing was merely the impression it was one of Stoppard’s more mediocre plays, realised less than successfully.

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