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posted/updated: 09 Sep 2011 -
Six Characters in Search of an Author
Luigi Pirandello. Adapted by Rupert Goold and Ben Power.
society/company: The Chelsfield Players (directory)
performance date: 23 Mar 2011
venue: Chelsfield Village Hall, Chelsfield, Orpington BR6 7RL
reviewer/s: The Countess (Sardines review)

Like many other plays from famous authors, Pirandello's original Six Characters in Search of an Author was met initially by mixed reviews; even riots, if some reports are to be believed. As with the Bard, the outlandishness hit a raw nerve with audiences of the time. Feeling there was a need, in Rupert Goold's words "!to recapture the original's capacity to provoke"; he and Ben Power created an updated, upscale version. Opinion on Goold seems to waver between this theatrical demi-god and a man that blinds his audiences with amazing effects but not necessarily a more literary sound version of the original. A giant fish-tank for the girl to drown in - sounds amazing but, alas, not a viable amateur undertaking. Did this new version manage to wow the sleepy village of Chelsfield nonetheless?
It was rather confusing and having spoken to other audience members, was reassured that it was a general feeling. The post-interval stretch gained pace and clarity and was definitely the more enjoyable part of the play. But the whole piece was rather onerous. As it was the first night, one presumes the actors fell into their roles more easily as the run went on. The acting was fine. Lana Beckwith's 'Producer' was a believable and amiable character. The others all played their part in helping the play move along. I think it was just a very big undertaking, fish-tanks aside.

Initially a piece for adjudication, I fully admire the tenacity to stray away from the tired fallbacks that amateur societies favour, rarely resulting in anything dynamic and exciting. This choice provided the opportunity to regain some of that provocation Goold aimed for. And it did. Despite nothing seeming to be out of bounds or beyond reprehension in this modern age, the incestuous storyline was still distasteful. The death of the girl (not the boy too for some reason, as the original implies) was upsetting. I suppose the play went some way to highlight human fragility, even in this technologically advanced age.

It was just too big an ask. As previously mentioned, without the special effects big- budget West End and festivals (such as Chichester) are capable of; it makes it very hard to portray such a multi-faceted story on a simple set. The whole edit suite scenario was understandably a difficult one to replicate, the restrictions of the stage size being one of the complexities to overcome. That said, I think they used their resources to their best advantage. Involving 'live' footage of the local pub was a stroke of genius. I am not ashamed to admit I thought at first it really was live and found myself wanting to run out after the actors! In an updated version that centered on filming - this was the defining moment for me.

Some plays are harder to stage than others. A director's vision always has a big part to play but so do resources available. A village hall venue puts other pressures on a society - especially time-wise, that groups using their own space have the luxury of avoiding. This can often mean easier options are settled for in the name of keeping the peace. I hope more societies bite the bullet and endeavour to produce something more eclectic and demanding.

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