Review: Six Characters in Search of an Author

Sahil Sama 11 March 2019
Image Credit: Six Characters in Search of an Author via Facebook

★★★★

What is real? This is the question both myself and the actors find ourselves asking during the Mighty Player’s production of Six Characters in Search of an Author. Directed by Annika Hi, this meta-dramatic play sets the audience as participants in a live rehearsal of a performance of Pirates of Penzance, a rehearsal horribly derailed by the appearance of six figures dressed in black, claiming to be “characters” seeking an “author”.

“This is not a performance. This is real. This is always our reality”: the claim of the pompous father (Rowan Gow) as he blurs the lines between fiction and reality. What makes a person real? What constitutes identity? In what sense, if any, can the characters of literary works be thought to be alive? These are the sorts of questions presented by the meta-theatrics of this play, questions which – although leaving the audience distinctly uneasy – are never answered.

The comfortable, intimate setting of Selwyn’s Diamond lends itself easily to a play where the fourth wall is not just broken but non-existent. From Cadence Ware’s amicable address to the audience at the beginning, to the Son’s (Edmund Wilson’s) trembling attempts to escape the venue blocked by an invisible barrier as the play approaches its climax, the audience is never allowed to remain entirely passive.

The ‘plot’ of the play is captivating, despite being consciously and self-admittedly melodramatic. The themes are decidedly dark, if conventional: familial drama, sexual perversion, death and even suicide all rear their ugly heads. Yet the darker elements of the play are mediated by the interjections of the actors, whether it be Tim Edwards’ comically dispassionate sarcasm or Florence Sharkey and Rahul Patel’s moralistic outcries; this is by no means a predictable or boring play, the interplay of tragedy and dark comedy constantly re-engaging the audience. The characters themselves, in a series of excellent individual performances, are endlessly compelling. Between the Father’s pretentious philosophising, the broken fragility of the mother (Evie Rae), Alannah Young’s spectacular performance as the mistreated, unhinged step-daughter and Edmund Wilson’s shaky, raging speeches as the son, the audience is never left wanting more dramatic variety.

What is a stage? “It’s a place where people play pretend so well that it ends up being very serious indeed” claims the step-daughter – an apt summary. Yet “all the world’s a stage” might better encompass the play’s questioning of the gap between performance and reality. Certainly, the Mighty Players “pretend” excellently in this intriguing play, well worth watching if you don’t mind an existential crisis or two in your theatre-going experience.