“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.
“Although hit and miss, Theatro Technis is leading starved audiences out of theatre lockdown with this fun and quirky adaptation of a classic.”
Georg Büchner’s fragmented masterpiece, Woyzeck, tells the tale of a tormented soldier living in a provincial German town. He toils to provide for his wife Marie and young child. His sense of duty leads him to suffer – first at the hands of his machismo army superiors, and then under the auspices of a scientist come doctor who afflicts Woyzeck with strange experiments. All the while Woyzeck’s mental health and family life are in decline. He suffers increasingly from delusions while Marie begins an affair with a preening army Drum Major.
Director Gavin McAlinden opens with an ensemble of his expansive cast. We look in on a rowdy cabaret club. With neither Woyzeck or Marie to be seen, the emphasis creates a sense of ostracization that Woyzeck is later to suffer. Cutting through the rabble Agnes Panasiuk treats us to a rendition of Sammy Lerner’s Falling in Love Again in the first of a series of apt musical numbers. In truth, the opening scene encapsulated the highlights and lowlights of this night’s performance. The ensemble didn’t quite manage to create the atmosphere of a club without shouting over the singer. However, when they finally quieten down, Panasiuk’s beautiful singing voice provides a truly compelling moment of intimacy between performer and audience.
The manuscript for Woyzeck was incomplete and splintered at the time of Büchner’s death. It’s a sort of Meccano set of a play. Each scene can be compiled in almost any order and serves to heap ever greater pressure onto the poor wretch Woyzeck. Russell Bradley emphasises this sense of mounting pressure by tying things together with rumbling action music.
Some of these scenes are truly captivating. None more so than with Clayton Black’s performance as Woyzeck’s Captain. He flits wonderfully between shouting and sotto voce when Woyzeck is asked to shave him. Creating a strange sense of unhinged control and delivering a truly sinister atmosphere culminating in him turning the tables on Woyzeck and taking the open blade to his neck. Elsewhere, the experimental scientist – played by Agnes Panasiuk as the caricatured ‘mad scientist’ provides welcome comic relief.
Sadly, it is the strength (or volume) of these performances that sometimes upsets the emotional tone of the overall piece. The humble Woyceck, played by Andreas Krügserson, is too often drowned out by these larger than life characters, leaving ever smaller spaces for the audience to empathise with his plight. More troublesome still – sound problems frequently emerge, leaving dialogue inaudible or otherwise hard to capture. All of this led to the emotional cadence of the piece becoming a sort of free for all attack on Woyzeck, which was hard to buy into.
Although hit and miss, Theatro Technis is leading starved audiences out of theatre lockdown with this fun and quirky adaptation of a classic. It will no doubt get slicker as its short run continues, and the standout morsels alone are enough to whet any dry appetite.