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Performance Review: The truth is out there … but Mulder can’t find it by himself
Running alternately over eight nights from April 23-30, it was a noble endeavour by overall producer Lee Elms, the director of instalment one – ‘The Director; or, Behind the Curtain of an Unravelling Theatre Company’ – but he bit off more than he can chew by including the second.
The man is clearly a masochist. Writing, directing and acting in a play is enough to put most mortals in the morgue, but to try and also curate a trio of plays – ‘Confessions’, ‘Not I’ and ‘The Human Voice’ – well, that would have been a bridge too far for the poor lot that built the Burma Railway.
Well set to deliver
No bridge, surprisingly, is needed to make it over to Teaterøen – a venue that is increasingly being referred to as Theatre Island now it has set itself up as a new home for English-language dramatics – and both productions were performed on its main stage.
It’s fair to say they both made impressive starts.
For ‘The Director’ the audience intriguingly found themselves facing one another: four rows on either side of a narrow aisle. Never mind a whodunit, this was a wherearetheactors – the answer for some was right next to you … for the entire performance!
For the trio of plays, performed before a more conventional seating plan, all three were warming up as the audience took their seats. Effective lighting would later denote where the action was, leaving the other two casts to rest in the shadows. Various gadgetry rendered a futuristic tone and the raised platforms was a nice touch too.
Deliberately vs unintentionally off-kilter
If anything, the second instalment made the better first impression – but little did we know that the production had already peaked in the warm-up. At no further point did the performances merge – a wasted opportunity.
‘The Director’, on the other hand, raised no such expectations. With nothing but the audience to look at, the realisation set in that we were the performance. The people before us: were they in on it? The woman who walked out early? Okay, definitely the annoying joker at the back (solid work from Thomas Søby Andersen, who expertly used his improv experience when needed). But what about the guy sitting next to him who confesses to being an actor himself? He sat in the back row presuming he’d be safe!
Back at the trio, a man in his underpants (Constantin Gindele, who co-directed with Nina Voit) is talking to himself or somebody imaginary … or not – it’s reminiscent of the Crispin Glover scenes in ‘Wild at Heart’, but without the cockroaches and memorable lines. As with all three short plays, there’s nowt wrong with the acting, but ‘The Human Voice’ is a classic, and Gindele’s approach is seriously off-kilter.
Theatre school wank
Let’s imagine you’re distracted for a moment. Perhaps part of the dialogue triggers off a memory, or a revulsion, or a yearning. The difference between the two productions is that ‘The Director’ gives you a way back in. Miss a line in any one of the ‘trio’ and you’re deciphering twaddle Bletchley Park couldn’t crack, and it doesn’t help that the directors’ fellow CISPA students are whooping at every pun. Bottom line: you’ve made your audience feel like arseholes and you’ve completely lost them.
It’s a shame because Hinrik Kanneworff and Maria Winther Nørgaard in ‘Confessions’ have serious star quality. A chemistry between the two is enhanced by their placement of masking tape. When they talk in unison, sometimes catching one another up, they really have a moment – it’s quite electrifying. And then Nørgaard wraps the tape around her fellow actor’s neck – and …. it’s only ended after barely 10 minutes.
Finally Samuel Beckett’s ‘Not I’, which is delivered with great aplomb by Garance Chansigaud-Fargepallet, is a 15-minute monologue delivered at great speed and with admirable linguistic dexterity. When she finishes and takes the curtain call, she celebrates like she’s won a chariot race (we’re half hoping she’s in character … but no, it’s really over), with her fellow CISPA students whooping her like she’s just beaten Ben Hur.
This is drama school wank at its worst. We understand why they do it – it’s part of their training. And by all means, they should show it to their fellow students and family. They’ll pretend to understand/like it. But don’t show it to the general public as you’ll put them off from going to the theatre forever.
Fortunately back in ‘The Director’, the back-stories of Romanian actress Erika Bálint and Kurdistani actor Hana Shuan, which underpin the whole play, are easier to follow and more relatable – even if it is still relatively complex!
Bálint has an endearingly shy earnestness and, as her story unfolds, we feel her pain acutely as she leaves before the final curtain. Shuan, meanwhile, is all about the method as his descent into PTSD is retold. His every utterance sounds unscripted, and it’s to his credit that there’s a sense of real loss at his eventual exit – like we’ve lost the one guy we could truly trust.
Their departures leave Elms to wrap it all up with the kind of salacious confession that only a Catholic priest, as recent revelations have shown, could have the stomach for.
In darkness we listened in disbelief and then as the lights came on we departed in silence, disgusted at the content but elated to have been taken so far out of our comfort zone, and to have made it through.
So … truth by falsehood … there’s no question that ‘The Director’ tested the audience at every turn, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. But somehow the memo to the sister act got lost – or ignored.
It would appear that Elms has been badly let down in his quest. Not only did the trio of plays fail to establish any kind of synergy with ‘The Director’, but there was a complete absence of any symbiosis on the night.
Any theatre director should feel privileged to welcome the public to their show. Disappoint them, and you’re not just losing customers – you’re endangering the livelihood of your fellow peers.