The Actor's Nightmare

Mon 20th – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Thomas Pymer

at 00:55 on 23rd Aug 2018

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“Kafka or Beckett with more jokes” is the phrase that is running through my head as I start to write this review.

The performance has a simple and novel premise: a man wakes up backstage, with a performance about to begin, with no idea of what his name is, how he got there or who the various people surrounding him are. His confusion increases as he is thrown into a play which keeps repeating itself and randomly jumping into a different play altogether, whilst he is forced to try and keep up with all the changes. This, although a dream scenario with which practically everyone will be able to empathise, has not to my knowledge ever before formed the basis of a play.

Perhaps as the play went on the reason for this became more apparent. Moments of comedy were sprinkled lavishly throughout, it was very funny in that regard, but at the same time, it seemed to just become more and more random.

It must be said, the play was genuinely funny on several occasions. Continual costume changes, incorrect lines, insistence on custard tarts, stage managers dressed as maids and an entire scene taking place standing in a bin were some of the more memorable ones.

The actors are to be applauded on their timing and their deadpan delivery. Since they were playing other actors, it was slightly more difficult to tell what was happening, but each behaved believably as their character. They acted like characters in dreams, doing completely nonsensical things as if they were perfectly natural.

However, there were occasions in which the jokes did get a little stale. A scene in which the amnesiac actor attempts to recite a soliloquy and ends up with a butchered version of various Shakespearean speeches, the US Pledge of Allegiance and the odd prayer is entertaining, but they simply went on for too long sometimes.

If there was a message or any reasoning, I did not get it. It would have been nice if the play had arrived at some resolution or solution, which would have explained what had happened or at the very least given some suggestion to a moral of confusion. There was nothing; just a stop with at least two plays still going on concurrently. Perhaps this was meant to be a message of nihilism or confusion. Perhaps it was not. Ultimately it was just too difficult to tell.

This was a play which was not serious enough to be a Kafka or Beckett, nor light-hearted enough to be a simple comedy. It was incredibly confusing, but ultimately redeemed by the fact that it was unquestionably funny with actors who played their part solidly.

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Tara Snelling

at 08:50 on 23rd Aug 2018

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‘The Actor’s Nightmare’ is also partially the Reviewer’s Nightmare. The more I say about it, the more I spoil for you. Unlike the actor in this play however, I’ve been in this role before, so I will try not to panic.

As the audience trickles in, a medley of songs about dreams lilt from speakers. Then, the lights burst on and George – or is it Stanley? – stands centre stage, with no clue or why he is there, or even who he actually is. He remembers being an accountant, but soon he is thrust onto the stage with only a few minutes before opening, a rabbit-in-the-spotlight, and a whole host of people who are going to make sure he’s on that stage.

The circular layout of the audience surrounding the stage, however, works really well for the play, as the viewers literally entrap George, penning him in like a scared animal. What I found interesting was either the decision of the actor or director to have George not look at the real audience, but slightly further out – I feel like eye-contact, or recognition, might have added to our empathy with George’s anxiety. There is a sense of the double audience, but perhaps even encouragement for the audience to react more would have connected us to the characters slightly more.

The cast does a wonderful job and work together fantastically as an ensemble. Ryan Bernsten is fantastically funny as George, with a perfect gobsmacked fish-out-of-water look, frantically looking for any inkling of what he is supposed to be doing. We are as confused as him however, as his co-star Sarah Siddons waltzes onto the stage, dragging him through scene after scene. Lara Deering perfects the fine art of an actor playing an actor – capturing both her disgruntled ‘real’ self and the self-assuredness of the character-of-the-character. A real stand-out performance for me however is Emilka Cieslak – she is intensely otherworldly, with an intriguing Luna Lovegood-esque astuteness, which blurs the difference between where role and actor begin and end.

The play just isn’t quite my humour – I feel a bit frustrated by the inconclusiveness, but the cast is stellar and if you enjoy surrealism, Top Stoppard, or spoofs of playwrights from Beckett to Shakespeare, this comes highly recommended.

Very short and spirited, with a runtime of only 30 minutes, catch 'The Actor’s Nightmare' if you want to fill a few minutes with literary jokes, and to watch someone else flounder cluelessly about where they’re supposed to be.

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