A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6 Characters in Search of a Director

 

 


Written and Directed by Steven Berkoff

 

Charing Cross Theatre

 

 

16 May – 23 June 2012
 

 

After an over-long exposition, six actors wait to be called on set somewhere in Eastern Europe. It’s freezing. They’ve done upwards of thirty takes and the director is still not happy. The waiting room – a hotel lounge with leatherette sofas, tall windows and low level tables designed by Nigel Hook - is the waiting game, offering the six the opportunity to dissect the actor’s lot: ‘where you’re paid to wait, yet act for free.’ 

The six: guache ingénue, and anorexic , Debra, (Sarah Chamberlain), seasoned old timer, Charles, (Philip Voss) embittered cynic, Brian, (Neil Stuke) faded glamour-girl, Eve, (Andree Bernard), the jobs-worth crowd pleaser, Alan, (Paul Trussell) and the in-it-for-the-experience, Francis, (Ruth Everett) for the most part deliver Berkoff’s characteristic volley-shot dialogue at a fast pace.

The play directly recalls Pirandello’s classic, 6 Characters in Search of an Author in which a ‘director’ is besieged by a group of characters who want him to tell their story. Here is urgency. Berkoff’s focus is on the actors’ thoughts, expressions and reflections only. There is no story to tell. Maybe this is the point.

We are in the world of his previous Dahling You Were Marvellous. All cliché is here. Yet the characters are not framed against a definite stylised or real context and seem to fall somewhere between the two. Philip Voss gives us a sense of reality, as Charles waits anxiously for a call from his daughter, while each character has a moment in which truth breaks through. They talk of the ‘noble art’ and of being ‘soldiers on the battlefield’ against the mundanity of nightly performances, and screen versus theatre acting. In life subject matter does flip to include the sublime and the ordinary -  on stage this needs shaping.

The cynical Brian seems to be a parody of Berkoff himself, particularly in Stuke’s idiosyncratic vocal delivery. Berkoff has produced exciting, thrilling theatre: East, Metamorphoses, The Trial, Salome and recently the atmospheric On the Waterfront. Last year he was mesmerising in his one-man show, featuring Dog and The Tell Tale Heart. Yet 6 Characters in Search of a Director falls short. Berkoff takes a scattergun approach. He decries the web, Skype, apps and anything ‘global roaming.’ Action, bombast, is undercut by burps, laughs and heavy cynicism. Yet without his characteristic grotesquerie and ultra-pumped up rhythms this would-be invective is a wet firework.  

There are theatrical moments punctuated by his signature tableaux, slow motion and juxtaposition, as when Debra comes out of the moment to speak to the audience, highlighted by Mike Robertson’s  lighting design, or the dropping in of theatrical business, such as William McCready’s legendary pauses, which add a little piquancy. These quench the thirst.  

The last section is the most striking and interesting. The maverick Brian suggests that actors in the future will all be CGI’d, where the leading lady can ‘imagine you better without you.’ The staging seems to emphasise this as ‘the director’, dark and anonymous stands up-stage, talking on a mobile phone. Downstage the actors sit wrapped up in their own worlds. In an inter-cut, vintage display of overlapping dialogue, Berkoff’s play finally catches at the heartstrings as the director says: ‘get rid of them.’

 
 
Box Office: 08444 930 650
http://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/
Charing Cross Theatre
(formerly New Players Theatre)
The Arches
Villiers Street
London WC2N 6NL
Mon – Sat. 7.30 pm and Saturday Matinee 3.30
Tickets £29.50 and £24.50
 
 

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