Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"Six Characters in Search of an Author" - March 2008

After our recent 'experience' with 'Waiting for Godot' I'll admit to being a little concerned about seeing this Citizens/Lyceum/National Theatre of Scotland co-production. The 'blurb' about "Six Characters in Search of an Author" and its surreal elements and influence on theatre had previously piqued interest but now engendered dread. Would this be another 'great work' that we just didn't get?

I'm not sure I can speak for Waldorf as she had her own issues to contend with this evening, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This production of David Harrower's version of Luigi Pirandello's play may be overly wordy at times and seems overlong even at just 1 hour 45 minutes, but it has strong performances, some lovely moments and gave me something to think about on the way home. I'm not sure I can really ask much more than that from a night at the theatre (especially when using the Citz £6 Tuesday night ticket offer!)

I think this is probably one of the fairly rare occasions where a brief summary would be of benefit... Essentially the play takes place over the course of a day as a group of actors and production crew in rehearsal for a play find their space invaded by a group of six characters who demand that they get the chance to tell their story instead. What follows is a great deal of drama as their story unfolds balanced with humour as the characters interact with the actors to play them.

With a cast of 16 there's plenty of good performances here, even if many find themselves underused and left standing around a lot of the time. Particularly poor Andrew Scott-Ramsay who seems constantly sent to a darkened corner of the stage, although he does get his moment in the limelight. John Dougal as the 'Director' has all the play's best lines and provides all the knowing theatre gags, and I really enjoyed his performance. Ron Donachie as 'Father' has some of the play's most dramatic moments and acts as the Characters' spokesman for much of it. His speeches about the Characters' right to exist are at times over-written but the delivery is full of passion. I thought much of Amy Manson's portrayal of 'Stepdaughter' was excellent and had real presence, however the manic laughter pushed the wrong buttons in me and crossed into irritating. I'm not quite sure Una McLean's cameo as Madame Pace quite worked for me but I suspect that was more down to the ridiculous costume than anything to do with her performance.

As for it giving me something to think about, well it didn't leave me wondering about the fates of discarded characters but it certainly left me considering the ways we turn real life people into characters. How much responsibility does an author have to a real person on whom a character is based? How much can be changed? Does it matter if locations, events, dialogue are altered? It's one thing putting words in a character but it's another when you are affecting other's perceptions of a real person.

While positive on the whole, I do however have a few quibbles about the production. Firstly the decision to add a raised false stage at the Citizens seemed a bit excessive just to add some understage lighting and resulted in quite dramatically altered sightlines from the first several rows in the stalls (and a lot of noisy clumping about). The 'pond' was... em.. different and the pianola unnecessary. There has obviously been a fair bit of money thrown at this - I'm just not at all sure that it added a great deal to it.

'Six Characters in Search of an Author' runs at the Citizens until 29th March.

Image by Richard Campbell used with permission.