Tackling a Stoppard play is an ambitious move even with a professional cast. He’s a brilliant writer but his texts are sometimes intellectual at the cost of accessibility. Performing a Stoppard play, with a student cast, and a full orchestra – in week 5? That sort of ambition has to border on madness. But (for the most part) director Beatrix Swanson Scott has managed somehow to pull it off.
Stoppard’s “Every Good Boy Deserves Favour” follows Alexander (played brilliantly by Dominic Carrington), a political protestor who has been placed in an asylum in an attempt to silence his protests and destroy his reputation. Scenes in the asylum are interspersed with action between his son, Sacha, and Sacha’s professor, illuminating the political climate that might result in this sort of punishment. Alexander’s ward–mate (cell-mate?) is Ivanov, a man who believes that he is the conductor of an orchestra… that only he can see.
Well, the audience can too. An orchestra is pretty hard to miss, and you really wouldn’t want to. Musical Director Morgan Edward Overton and Sound Designer Joseph Hancock have done something extraordinary in pulling the orchestra together. I relished the cavorting of the conductor, who, despite never speaking a word, might have been at times the most entertaining person on stage. The musical interludes were sometimes on the long side; but always well played and beautifully conducted.
Unfortunately for the cast, the addition of the orchestra removed around 85% of the available playing space. The proximity of the actors is often thrilling, and I’d suggest the brave of heart sit in the front row. However, the shallow playing space lends to a slightly awkward dynamic in certain scenes that rely on sightlines, which might stretch the audience’s imagination a touch too far.
Thankfully, thoughtful use of lighting by Lara Mandell avoids this becoming an issue for most of the play. It is a shame that the orchestral space wasn’t utilised a little more by the actors, as this might have led to some interesting dynamics on stage. When the orchestral space was used, the atmosphere was electric: Jasper Cresdee-Hyde’s entrance as Colonel was something to behold. I can understand, though, that overuse would render these impressive moments less powerful.
The cast is energetic, and utterly committed to Stoppard’s strange world. I was unsettled by the characterisation of Ivanov’s madness, which seemed a little outdated at best and tone deaf at worst – pardon the pun. Lara Cosmetatos, who plays Ivanov, has to be complimented on her energy and dedication, artistic choices aside.
Barton’s charming Doctor and Oakley’s intimidating Teacher were entertaining and charismatic, but the standout was Dominic Carrington as Alexander, who carried the show. His mature and sensitive portrayal of the political protestor was enthralling.
In an intellectual and intense reimagining, the cast (and of course, the orchestra) of ‘Every Good Boy’ have done a very good job. For just over an hour of fast-paced playfulness, it’s worth watching… if only to see a silent musical conductor lick a tambourine.