By Bella Thompson
Written by Tom Stoppard in 1962, this play-within-a-play was written to examine the ideas of fate and freewill by having its characters unwillingly forced into the action. Unfortunately, here these concepts were not explored to their full potential – the play lacking any substance beyond the superficial. The show itself is widely considered a parody of the classic murder-mystery – calling upon the incredibly stereotypical setting of a weekend in a country house manor were the inhabitants are trapped with (gasp) a madman on the loose!
In this aspect the direction of Diego Garcia was perfectly clear – overacting to the extreme. Luckily, the play-within-a-play concept gives a certain license for an increasing level of ridiculousness, and illustrated well the differentiation between the ‘real’ and the ‘fake’ play. Even taking into account the satirical nature of the show, the majority of the cast overplayed the stereotypes of their characters – after a certain amount of swooning one does become ready to collapse oneself.
This is not to say there were not some particularly notable exceptions. Madeline Diggins as the overworked and underappreciated housemaid Mrs Drudge stole focus of every scene she was in – stepping forward to deliver the best lines to raucous laughter and flouncing about with a feather duster that was used more to poke other characters that she disliked than to clean anything.
Alex Harris’s Birdboot and Roy Wallace-Chant’s Moon were the two pretentious and turgid critics positioned in the audience (directly in front of another critic and myself, ironically), and were well matched in their bombastic and grandiloquent ‘reviews’ and comments on the progressing show. Handily pointing out clichés and crucial characterizing points, they served as almost narrators for the play they and the audience were watching together from their vantage point in the front row, drawing attention to the already obvious genre conventions and likely murderers – “for all practical purposes,” as Mrs Drudge so amusingly puts.
Minimal is not what one would expect from a “murder-mystery comedy” – the genera itself doesn’t particularly invoke the image of a monochromatic and largely bare set. But that is what Fitzgerald – along with Set Designer Sarah Amin and Assistant Set Designer Leighton Chen – provided to accent the far more intricate content within the narrative. Right down to the details of the design from Fitzgerald’s team and the Properties duo led by Jordana Wegman – including an immaculate bookshelf featuring black and white-spined novels and a deck of only black cards – the amount of effort put into the production design of the show was clearly but subtly on display for those who cared to find it.
Designer Louisa Fitzgerald brought an original pitch to what she considered to be a difficult set of scenery descriptions from Stoppard – the very first sentence being: “The audience appear to be confronted by their own reflection in a huge mirror.” Taking some artistic license and bringing the show into the 21st century, a television screen was implanted into the set to display the faces of a section of the audience and the ‘reviewers’ – a brilliant take on a simple convention to have the same effect even in the unconventional studio style venue.
First time Lighting Designer Dolly Li did a respectable job for what was obviously her introduction to designing for the stage, and though she does have far to go to develop her overall abilities, specific elements really managed to shine (if you’ll pardon my pun), including a direct spot on Mrs Drudge in her doorway in moments of shock and horror. That alone managing to send the audience into cackles, which shows a certain level of understanding and potential that will only improve with more experience.
Despite some obvious flaws both in technical elements and contextual motivation, the audience genuinely enjoyed every minute, - each joke being met with guffaws of laughter and some literal knee-slapping from the more zealous patrons. Though very clearly a student run production, it still provided a night out filled with humour and only a handful of murder – but if someone in the audience is speaking during a performance what do they expect but the appropriate consequence?
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.