Review by Yasmin Elahi
The first show of Ad Astra’s 2023 season is ‘A Life in the Theatre’ by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet. The two-hander show shines a spotlight behind the stage and follows two actors as they strive to uncover the meaning of life, all while darting on and off stage in various roles. Distinguished actor, Robert, takes rising star, John, under his wing (when he is not competing for the limelight) in this funny and thought-provoking play.
Lighting design by Nathaniel Knight was cleverly crafted to give the feel that the audience was actually backstage, with bright lights from side stage indicating where the ‘show’ was taking place. Sound design by Ben Lynskey enhanced this further. The set design encompassed both a backstage area and dressing room which transformed into the ‘stage’ for certain scenes was incredibly well thought out and executed.
Stage Manager Petria Leong precisely handled the technical operation of the show. With so many small scenes and sound and lighting changes, she had her hands full yet did not put a step wrong. Her attention to detail and timing ensured the show ran smoothly and scenes transitioned with ease.
Director Pierce Gordon did an expert job of creating the world of the actor. Using the set to its limits, the action was dynamic, the blocking natural and the interactions varied. The show is comprised of many small scenes, which Gordon handled in a way that minimised blackouts and scene transitions. The intimacy of the play was captured effectively and allowed the audience to empathise with both characters. The use of milk crates and pallets to create the different ‘sets’ was inspired and very effective. Creative and out-of-the-box thinking from Gordon that did not go unnoticed.
Francis McMahon did a stellar job as Robert. His fastidious nature, distinguished manner and proper accent was a wonderful juxtaposition to that of John’s. His command of the stage was riveting and his utmost professionalism and commitment to the role was inspiring to watch.
Jesse Richardson played the fresh-faced and somewhat naïve John with heart. Playing opposite McMahon, the pair could almost be described as the odd couple. Richardson’s handling of one of the serious scenes towards the end of the play was tender, vulnerable and intimate.
Individually, these are two talented actors but when combined the result is truly awe-inspiring. The comedic timing of the pair was flawless. The play is innately funny but McMahon and Richardson made it hilarious. The small theatre was bursting with laughter at many a scene. However, they were able to balance the comedy with seriousness when required – a testament to their acting prowess. During this performance, there was rather a large mishap with one of the set pieces. McMahon and Richardson did not miss a beat. They expertly rectified the issue, in character, and continued the scene. Their ability to improvise and bounce off each other speaks volumes and was special to watch.
The pair had to inhibit a variety of characters throughout the 80-minute play with different accents, voices and mannerisms. McMahon and Richardson handled each one expertly and with varied and dynamic energy.
Overall, ‘A Life in the Theatre’ is a comedic and intimate look behind the curtain at the life of actors. For those in the industry, it is a must see as it rings true to the lives of so many performers. Ad Astra’s production, under the talented direction of Gordon, was an incredibly professional, polished and captivating show. A must see for anyone that has ever wondered what happens backstage in the theatre.