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Review: Acts of the Bedroom
|Culture||Tue, 01 May 2012||Tweet|
Two plays, Two casts: Two inevitably different experiences. Upon entering The Barron I was, as ever, excited to see what St Andrews had to offer us by means of theatrical endeavor. Not only was the format relatively novel, (the alignment of an older piece, by a renowned dramatist against new writing from within the student body) the whole experience had been conceived and developed by two first years. The audience was inevitably keen to support. I only hoped that it would be a night of boundless pleasure, rather then one I’d have to slip away from with minimal explanation. Either way, the lights fell and Acts of The Bedroom commenced.
The first piece to slink it’s way onto the bedroom set was Tennessee Williams' Talk to Me Like The Rain. The set transformed The Barron into a white-out studio style set, loose fabrics draping the walls that contained whitened furniture. This stark aesthetic minimalism paralleled well with the exhausted state of the relationship unfolding before the audience. The bareness of the space allowed the audience to focus upon the characterisation and relationship specifically. Both actors worked hard to convey their various feelings of discontent and disconnection, with Beth Robertson coming out with particularly impressive work. However, for me, this piece had complications in its transmission. As an exploration of the degradation of a relationship, it deals predominantly with a theme of disconnection. The characters themselves feel disconnected from their respective worlds and additionally from one another.
However, with this level of disconnectedness bounding through any piece, the direction has to be hyper-sensitive in order that the audience continues to be connected to and invested in the work. For me, this was something that failed at times. Not long in, I found myself lacking empathy or interest in the individual characters and their relationship. Audition pieces are regularly extracted from Talk to Me Like The Rain. It has been suggested that this is because it is the sort of play that only requires that the actors turn up, find the moment, and connect to the actor playing opposite them for the play to stand up. It was in this latter aspect of connection between characters that I felt the relationship dwindled in believability - my own interest unsalvageable by Tennessee William’s poetic language. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. It is a highly challenging feat for any actor to pull off a performances under such intense audience examination, and there was well-considered, solid work in evidence. However, as the cast snuck into the wings at half time, I hoped that round two would provide even more appetising bedroom fodder. Little did I know how entirely my hopes would be met.
To write a play is arguably brave. To write a play and stage it for your peers is even more so. I was aware that I wanted to like Joanna Alpern’s new work Echo before it began, but I did not have to push myself to enjoy it: It was genuinely brilliant. Much like the piece proceeding it, Echo focussed upon a disfunctional relationship; the couple struggling to negotiate the mental illness of the female protagonist, Kate. During the short change-over between the plays, some scenery was swapped along with the casts, bringing colour in on multiple levels. The writing itself truly set the play apart from the other student-written drama we’ve seen here. It was very funny, and not by way of slap-stick or cheap thrills, but through witty and intelligent observation. Both characters were well-crafted and involved and developed evenly. The audience laughed comfortably throughout, enjoying both characters and their thoughtful trajectories through the piece.
Besides congratulating Alpern for her penmanship, there was another who shone brightly: Adelaide Waldrop simply owned it. Not only did she present a humourous yet complex interpretation of a young woman that was wholly engaging, but she sensitively negotiated the mental illness of her character. As if that wasn’t sufficient, she rocked it in her nightwear and maintained an English accent: This girl's got skills. Olly Lennard played her other half, Robert, eloquently, and by contrast to Talk To Me Like The Rain, the chemistry and relationship between the lovers was intriguing and solid. The wants of both halves of the whole were played out clearly, leaving the audience uncomfortable in their empathy for either partner as the relationship soured. There was no doubt that the play was affecting, and that the audience were in awe by the end.
Whilst I throughly enjoyed the piece, and thought that the writing was superb, the only element of the plot that lacked believability was the ending. Endings are notoriously difficult to find, especially after such a complex establishment of the onstage world and action, but the one written didn't quite make sense to me. In the final moments of the play, having found out that his mentally unwell girlfriend has lied to him about being pregnant with his child, Robert allows himself to be pushed back onto the bed in an act of seduction that modulates into Kate strangling him. The level of distress he appeared to be in made little sense of his subsequent motivation to allow himself to be seduced. Paralysis by fear didn’t seem reasonable in the context of the scene, his desire to get out of the room suddenly muted without apparent reason. Perhaps it would have been more fitting if the murder hadn’t taken place within an act of sexualisation. Had he put on his suit, only for Kate to approach and strangle him with the already symbolic tie, this may have made more sense in terms of each characters motives following the revelation. This was only a minor quibble though. The play in its entirety was remarkable. I absolutely loved it.
As the night drew to a close, the audience had time to reflect upon the scenes we’d encountered in the bedroom. It was clear that Echo had moved many viewers. Whilst I did not enjoy Talk To Me Like The Rain nearly as much, it’s placement before Echo was very intelligent. It set the latter up as an easily comparable piece that was more accessible and engaging for those watching. A fantastic night of interesting work. Joanna Alpern is clearly one to watch.
Photos courtesy of Maia Krall Fry
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