A Director's Theatrical Thoughts

26 January 2008

Anyone who treated themselves to a new pair of ear plugs after the ETG production of Julius Caesar will be rubbing their hands with glee this week. Just as ears across Cambridge have stopped ringing with Mark Antony’s bellowing yells, another deafening commotion is made onstage, this time in the confines of the Corpus Playroom.

This week’s thoughts come fresh from both productions at the Playroom, Broken Glass (two short pieces of new writing) and a Chekhov Double Bill comprised of two short farces. Together they made for a schizophrenic evening, with the muted, pared down melodrama of Broken Glass colliding head-on with Chekhovian farce made camp and bold to the point of pantomime. Tonally worlds apart, occasionally both productions suffered in different ways for want of subtlety.

Broken Glass should certainly be applauded as a bold piece of new writing. While the second installment (‘Song’), a sensitively-observed study of an unstable young man, overshadowed the first (‘Losing Adonis’) in terms of writing, both were solidly acted. Unfortunately, ‘Losing Adonis’ lacked subtlety in its retelling of the Greek myth, and in its preoccupation with the formalities of the tale felt like a slightly affected portrayal of human suffering.

And so to Chekhov. Now, ‘subtle’ and ‘farce’ might not be two words you ever thought you’d hear in the same sentence, but the Chekhov Double Bill will leave you wishing they were. It’s a shame when intelligent words lose their impact as a result of being delivered at the same VERY LOUD VOLUME FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME. There are laughs to be had during this production, especially in the rather more successful ‘The Night Before The Trial’, but for much of ‘The Bear’ the play’s ironic humour went unnoticed as the audience’s ears took one long, continuous beating.

In order to bring out the inherent comedy of farce (that is, the comedy which lies not only in the buffoonery of the plot but in the words themselves) the temptation to camp it up beyond even the boundaries set by Carry On films, should be resisted. Subtle performances that are attentive to language and its rhythms can shed new light on farce. There is no reason to make more obvious what is already writ large in the words themselves. Of course, farce demands high energy and moments of explosion. But overdoing it risks losing the pleasure of these peaks. Through subtlety an audience can be made to think, can be challenged, can even be moved. And less is sometimes more when eardrums are concerned.