By James Saunders
Directed by Anthony Clark
Venue: Orange Tree Theatre
Date: Saturday 10th December 2011
This was good production, but the subject matter and style weren’t our cup of tea. Nominally about a real-life man who spent most of his life as a hermit, it covered a range of existentialist topics and was a self-referential piece, with the actors frequently commenting on the fact that they were performing.
Some of the ‘sketches’ within the play were quite funny, especially the opening of the second half. Meff and Dust had entered under cover of darkness, and when the lights went up they found them too bright. They tried to get them lowered, but all their signals, handsweeps and the like, had no effect. As a last resort, they decide to use the ‘dark’ lantern, so Meff asked for a volunteer from the audience to help him light it. He tried everything; bigamist, either male or female, Jesuit monk, crematorium shoveller, cat thief – nearly came a cropper with that one when a lady in the audience misheard him and thought he was asking for a ‘Catholic’ – pathological liar, and a range of other absurd options, but no luck. Fortunately Spud had a box of matches, and between them they prepared to light the dark lantern, blowing out the match just as it came near the wick, causing the lights to go out. Success. Except that the lights came on again soon after, at which point they ditched the lantern and gave up on darkness for the time being.
There was one female character, Lizzie, who claimed she was one of two identical twins, although other characters were convinced there was only one of her. She played the female characters – the hermit’s mother and a girl he left presents for – and got on well with Meff. They were even completing each other’s sentences by the end.
Meff started the play off by launching into a prepared speech about something or other, and then breaking off from that to start chatting to the audience; this is familiar stuff nowadays. Dust arrived soon after this, and a lot of their chat was about the arrival of another character – don’t remember when we first heard his name – and this was where most of the references to the repetitive nature of their actions came in. Lizzie turned up next, and then, finally, the auteur character, Rudge. This was a lovely performance from Aden Gillet. With a small goatee beard, he was the ultimate creative poseur, throwing intellectual tantrums and bossing everyone around.
When the character of the actor who’s playing the hermit turned up, his main concern was how to play the part. What was the key to the hermit’s character? His pleas for guidance were ignored or rebuffed by Rudge, with Dust occasionally joining in to explain the philosophical non-basis of the hermit’s life. It was tough going, but to our relief, there was an interval, and we could rest our few remaining brain cells before the second half.
There were some snippets of the hermit’s life story in the second half, and gradually the ‘actor’ slipped more and more into being the hermit. His beard, which had been obviously false in the first half, became attached. He started talking differently, and even when he was talking ‘out of character’, he spoke more as the hermit than as the actor. The play pretty much ends with his death, as far as I can remember.
The performances were all very good, the set was simple and items were shunted around as needed. There was a ladder to our left across the corner, a plinth made of two parts, an inflatable bed, chairs, etc, and the clothes were relatively modern. There were some nice touches of the surreal and the absurd, but the whole piece ultimately depends on the audience being sufficiently familiar with the philosophical arguments being put forward, some of which the author seemed to be mocking. I have no background in these ideas, and so I couldn’t really engage with the play beyond a very basic level.
© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me