To my great annoyance I was too ill and tired last week to get to any more of the 24:7 performances, but I’ve had a few drama-filled days since then, so here’s a roundup of all the theatre I’ve been to see in the last week!
Circus – Chris Salt (24:7 Rehearsed Reading at the Three Minute Theatre, Manchester)
I often think off-the-cuff productions like this are more enjoyable than plays with very complicated sets, costumes, stunts etc. In a way I think I prefer things being less complete. I think it comes from reading books; I like to use my imagination to a degree, even when people are actually in front of me being the characters. It also sets theatre very much apart from film, which necessarily has more fully formed sets, costumes etc.
Anyway, to the point. This play was enjoyable, and it was extremely useful to my friend and I to see a play that’s along the way to being finished but not quite there yet. We’re both studying on the Scriptwriting in Practice course and are currently in the middle of rewriting our drafts, so to see something at this stage of production rather than a polished play was fascinating.
As I say, overall I really enjoyed the play. The dialogue was convincing and very funny, and the characters well-observed for the most part. There were elements of the story that my friend and were confused by; when there seemed to be hooks for backstory which were not explored, and we couldn’t decide if they were red herrings or not. I’d really like to ask the writer whether these were intentional misguides, ideas that hadn’t yet been fully explored, or whether we were just imagining meanings!
Absurd Person Singular – Alan Ayckbourn (Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough)
I went to Scarborough for the weekend just gone with some family, and my dad got us tickets to see the 40th anniversary production of Absurd Person Singular. I’ve seen/read a couple of Ayckbourn plays before but not this one, so I had no idea what to expect. As we were taking our seats, I realised I was by far one of the youngest people there, and I felt this more and more keenly as the play went on. It is very dated, which I think excluded us younger audience members a great deal. The notion of class separation and movement as it was in the seventies is not something that feels relevant to me, and many of the jokes flew right over my head.
The actors were brilliant, and I enjoyed the characters who were really well observed. Still, they were social types that were only half-familiar to me, so I found some of their actions quite strange. What also puzzled me was the audience’s reaction to the subject matter, much of which I found incredibly disturbing where everyone was laughing away. It seemed somehow inappropriate to play multiple suicide attempts and depressive alcoholism for laughs. Or rather, they seemed the wrong kind of laughs to be played for. The refusal to explain anything or offer any kind of relief made the play incredibly dark. Again, perhaps my missing the point here is generational. I got the impression of things being very much swept under the rug, which is not the way people of my generation deal with issues.
What I did find incredibly useful was looking at how the play had been staged. It’s very complex set-wise, as the plays takes place over three acts in three separate kitchens, necessitating a massive set change between each act. Rather than having a bare set which only vital props, which I’m more used to seeing, the characters’ natures are shown by the detritus of their lives. It was fascinating watching the stage staff changing the set between acts, even down to rolling up the lino floor to reveal a new one underneath. It made a huge contrast to the simple, one-day-of-rehearsal play that I watched last Monday.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Shakespeare/Lyric Hammersmith & Filter Theatre (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)
Before seeing this I’d heard a lot about the debate it was causing between various types of Shakespeare fans. I was really excited when I first heard about the production because I saw Filter’s utterly brilliant reworking of Twelfth Night at the Lowry two years ago, and have been desperate ever since to see them tackle another Shakespeare. So before seeing it I was already excited from my previous experience, and also slightly anxious from so many disappointed reviews from people expecting something a bit more Shakespeare.
Overall, I’d say that the play was fun and enjoyable, but that it lacked the genius of Twelfth Night. That said, I think that’s the way I feel about the two plays anyway: Midsummer Night’s Dream has never been among my favourites while I’ve always had a soft spot for Twelfth Night. I thought the casting was good and I particularly enjoyed Puck and Oberon. The lovers, predictably, were not particularly interesting. There seemed to be a mismatch between them and the other characters, who were allowed much more to stray from the script and into modern territory. I felt that everyone should have been on the same page in this respect.
So, I can see why it’s been unpopular in some quarters, but it was an enjoyable two hours and I will certainly look out for more Lyric/Filter productions.