“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.
“The large cast bounce with energy, but this is sometimes at the detriment of clarity and cohesion”
Parisian housewife, Raymonde Chandebise, doubts her husband’s fidelity after he becomes sexually inactive. Confiding in her closest friend, Lucienne, they concoct a plan to test his loyalty, involving a fictitious letter from a secret admirer. Georges Feydeau’s 20th century farce unfolds between a comfortable study and the notorious hotel Coq d’Or, where a libidinous Persian in the closet and a drunken bed-hopping uncle are ingredients for a raucous romp.
The large cast bounce with energy, but this is sometimes at the detriment of clarity and cohesion. Key plot points expounded in the opening scene are hard to grasp due to diction, audibility and the fast pace of the dialogue. Particularly of note, a mishap with some braces and the function of a moving bed are both integral to the play’s comedic effect but are not given the necessary emphasis by the actors and are easily missed by the audience. The opening scene also fails to establish the relationships between various individuals which prevents the audience from appreciating the hilarity of their entanglement. The opening of the second act of the play is far clearer and is well-received by the audience, aided by the comic intervention of Thomas Witcomb as ex-military hotel manager Ferallion.
Sonoko Obuchi’s vibrant set design clearly distinguishes Chandebise’s house and the vulgar hotel. The set makes full use of the large space at Theatro Technis, which perfectly caters to the characters’ escapades. Watching the set change in the play’s two intervals is a spectacle in itself, with a large team appearing to move furniture and with loud drilling taking place to attach and remove partition walls. While this is a minor issue, it seems slightly unnecessary. A more imaginative set would avoid excessive resets and the inconsistencies in staging that later ensue. Amidst all the mayhem, the actors (understandably) commit a schoolboy error, struggling to uphold the illusion of a corridor which links the bedroom and bathroom door.
A Flea in her Ear is dialogue heavy, but the ensemble presents an excellent feat. Michael Claff as both Chandebise and Poche brings a physical humour to the characters alongside the loveable nephew, Camille, played by James Bruce who gives a standout performance. Although stereotyped, exaggerated characters are key to farce, it would be nice to see more variation between the reactions of the other characters to the ludicrous occurrences. There is lot of shouting and screaming which is quite tiring by the third act and detracts from the humorous rampage of the enraged Spaniard, Hominedes (Andre Pinto).
This absurd farce takes us on a long, chaotic journey with a plot that has the potential to induce uncontrollable laughter. For the audience to appreciate the fantastic dramatic irony of this play, the actors must ensure that the audience is in on the joke. With more attention to this, Acting Gymnasium have the basis for a highly entertaining production.