EFR - Reviews of A Number

A Number

Sun 14th – Sun 28th August 2016

reviews

Laura Whetherly

at 10:10 on 17th Aug 2016

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Caryl Churchill’s 'A Number' is a difficult play to perform. With just two characters on stage at any point, some tricky dialogue and the necessity for one actor to multi-role, it remains a challenge for even the most professional and well-rehearsed casts. Unfortunately, Gone Rogue Production’s interpretation of the show fails to overcome all of these obstacles, and the result is a dragging production which leaves the audience itching to get out rather than wanting more.

'A Number' considers the moral implications of cloning, built around a series of conversations between Salter (a father) and Bernard (his son) – or, at least, versions of his son, cloned several years before the timeline of the play. As the show moves on towards an anti-climatic conclusion, we get a glimpse of the different men Bernard’s clones become, bringing up questions of identity, family and the nature of love.

With just two actors on stage, the show drags, and it is frustrating to constantly hear the points where one character pauses mid-sentence to allow the other to interrupt. There are minimal distractions in the form of light, sound or set, but rather than this thrusting the acting to the fore, it feels like the production just hasn’t got round to deciding what to do with them.

A studio the temperature of a small oven does nothing to help with the show’s atmosphere, and both audience and cast struggle with the heat and airlessness. A “thrust” style stage with the audience seated around three sides could have been used to create a feeling of intimacy, but instead, the primary result is that around a third of the audience at any one point gets the view of an actor’s backside rather than a sense of the full action.

There are some redeeming features to the production; Charlie Randall is charismatic as the clones, and there are some strong contrasts in the way characters interact between different scenes. However, overall, this is a forgettable production. The script is a poor choice, the show itself is clumsily put together and the acting isn’t good enough to redeem either of these features. For Caryl Churchill fans, there may be something here to enjoy, but for the rest of us, the price of a ticket is probably best put to use somewhere else.

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Eloise Heath

at 10:31 on 17th Aug 2016

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I did not really enjoy ‘A Number’, Caryl Churchill’s broody two-hander about cloning and identity. A father and son talk over their relationship, after discovering that the latter has been cloned an indefinite number of times.

The explicit postmodern vibe becomes cloying, with lines that sound like an English Fresher slightly misquoting Althusser and then vaguely trailing off in a tutorial. However, working with this undoubtedly tricky material, the acting feels very earnest. Charlie Randall and Tom Smythe both manage to tease out some nice moments; Randall in particular has genuine charisma. He handles the multi-rolling admirably, creating clear and vivid differentiation between each of his three characters.

Nevertheless, in places these actors could be more subtle. The perpetual hunching and shouting of this second incarnation is striking, yet stylised in a way that sits at odds with the production's other more naturalistic decisions. This schism is one that runs throughout the play; Gone Rogue productions never quite straddle Churchill’s naturalistic/stylised dynamic.

One kink that really needs addressing is a consistent problem with the delivery of the dialogue. Churchill’s trademark interrupting-interrupted dialogue frequently breaks off mid line. Lines in such a vein, like ‘Why would you keep-’ and ‘I know I-’, are delivered without any implication that the character intended to finish the thought; you can hear the hyphen at the end.

There is, however, a larger elephant in the room, one completely beyond the control of the cast. Namely the unspoken, audience-wide game of ‘Fan yourself with a playbill if you think the room is much much too hot’. The stifling heat, combined with the noise leaking in from the stage upstairs, really deflates the atmosphere. The room was hot, the play was not.

There is some good work here. It’s refreshing to see a cast make decisions about characterisation and stick to them. However this production of 'A Number' is fundamentally quite unimaginative, and a bit one note for my taste. I would describe it as off balance. Which reminds me; if your set only consists of two chairs and a table, treat your actors to a non-wobbly table.

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