“Aside from a couple of well-intentioned but clunky party scenes, there was no variation in pace from one scene to the next”
Gavin McAlinden’s production of Anthony & Cleopatra at Theatro Technis is the showcase production for the students at his weekly acting workshop, Acting Gymnasium, and this is very obviously a mixed ability student production. Michael Claff (Anthony) is clearly a regular, having frequently taken the lead in other productions, and makes a decent fist of it, but the majority of the other cast members struggled vocally, with diction and clarity, which meant that not only was the poetry lost, but frequently the narrative too. Although Gabriel Puscas (Enobarbus) moved with a certain charismatic ease, for instance, far too many of his lines were rushed, mumbled and impossible to distinguish. Too often, the language was sacrificed in moments of high emotion. This was problematic across the board, and particularly marred Hannah Luna’s performance as Cleopatra. This most tempestuous of Shakespeare’s heroines speaks some of her most extraordinary lines in rage and in grief, and we simply couldn’t make them out. In addition, the decision to dress her in a succession of differently coloured corsets did nothing to lend this performance the strength and sensuality it lacked. Nowhere in this production was there the sense of the enormous power at stake in this relationship, nor was it there in Caesar’s icy machinations.
There were some welcome moments of clarity provided by some of the actors in smaller roles – credit here to Emma Wilkinson Wright (Charmian), Anna Walden (Agrippa) and Ventidius (Brian Easty) – and the sound design (including James Jones’ original music) though occasionally heavy-handed, was pleasingly atmospheric throughout, but overall this was a slow evening, running half an hour over its advertised running time. Aside from a couple of well-intentioned but clunky party scenes, there was no variation in pace from one scene to the next, and the transitions were badly managed throughout, with far too much bare stage on show. The two courts were not sufficiently defined against one another, and the grandeur of Anthony and Cleopatra’s passion was nowhere to be found.
It left this reviewer with big unanswered questions, the dominant one being, ‘why tell this story now?’ Theatre is a scarce commodity at the moment, and every production needs to have something to say. What did the director want to say? What did he want his audience to find? As we stepped out into the night, we remained unenlightened.
“a very watchable piece of theatre that is intimate in exploring its far-reaching topics”
Three months into their relationship, Bradley and Lex are ready to christen it. However, there’s more than just first-time jitters getting in the way. Romance, intimacy and identity cook from the inside out in Tom Wright’s well-written comedy about our baggage in the bedroom. Not to give too much away but the storytelling is full of treats. Even though there aren’t any twists per se, every plot point, from whose bedroom we’re in to whose life’s at threat are threaded subtlety into Bradley and Lex’s back-and-forth.
Lex and Bradley, at times, evoke the same affection you have towards Louis and Prior’s in Kushner’s Angels in America, and I do not say that lightly. Both pairs, are intelligent gay men who know all too well the strains and threats on their community but are in disagreement on how, or if, they should take arms against the issues. And like Angels, Undetectable is unmistakably made for the stage.
Wright leavens the conflicted morals of his play through some very funny dialogue. Whilst shrewd and well observed, this showed his skill at turning phrases and pacing punchlines, more than it did his strength at giving unique voices to his characters. Perhaps it wasn’t his aim, because his choices ultimately work to the play’s credit; helped in no small part by two towering performances from Lewis Brown and Freddie Hogan.
Director Rikki Beadle-Blair MBE and the players have brought to life a vivid tapestry of labels, masks and brave-faces. The moments of roleplay between the lovers are utterly enthralling to watch exploring the theatre in lovemaking itself, through a play-within-a-play dynamic that all at once amuses and, quite frankly, creeps you out (especially during a teacher-student fantasy). Brown and Hogan take on their parts with nerves of steel, not once missing a beat in a physically gruelling and exposing performance.
In a play like this, a pinhole in any of these elements sinks the ship completely. And whilst there aren’t any holes in Undetectable, there are a few open windows. There’s a distinct lack of stakes between Lex and Bradley. Once the roles are established, the play spins out entirely predictably. A switch in style in the final third was welcomed, and well executed, but didn’t shift from the fact that despite many threats of walk-outs, we knew it would be happily ever after. Perhaps it’s because certain emotional junctures aren’t given space to breathe. At one point Bradley emotively talks about what the spectre of a positive HIV diagnosis can do to the mind, in one of the play’s finest moments, but is undercut by Lex talking about his drug uses. Moments like these were rushed and could have done with more unpacking. A little quiet would have gone a long way.
Despite this, Wright has created a wonderful romantic relationship and Beadle-Blair has crafted a very watchable piece of theatre that is intimate in exploring its far-reaching topics.