By Lucy Knight
Having not had the chance to go and see Hidden during its Assembly Rooms run back in February, I was excited about its appearance in the Durham Festival of the Arts programme, and intrigued to see what all the hype about this secretive production had been about. There was less of a sense of mystery this time, of course: the names of the two actors involved – Harvey Comerford and Georgie Franklin – had not previously been disclosed, but for the revival this secret could inevitably no longer be kept. However, knowing who the actors were did not lessen the mesmerising effect of Alex Prescot’s subtle and engaging production, which captivated its audience from the start, and elegantly led us through a series of monologues and duologues depicting the essence of six interconnected characters.
Empty Shop provided a wonderfully intimate performance space for this stripped-back version of the play, enhancing the sense of direct communication between character and audience. Comerford’s first lines, spoken from within the audience itself, worked particularly well in this setting, as the audience were immediately closely involved in the action. Both actors consistently commanded the space, frankly addressing the audience, and even daring to make eye contact with individual audience members, which was both disconcerting and compelling. There was a deep sense of honesty throughout the presentations of the different characters –we, as an audience, had been invited in to experience the pockets of raw feeling and emotion that exist behind the untold stories of an urban community.
Whilst the technical effects were minimal, Technical Director, Tanya Agarwal must be commended for helping to create a beautiful sense of subtlety: the pared-down set and natural lighting meant that the characters and their stories had our undivided attention. Franklin and Comerford were more than competent in guiding us through the ‘episodes’ of the characters’ lives, aided by no props, only by a subtle soundtrack, which framed each scene and indicated location. The overall effect was simple and seamless.
Both Comerford and Franklin are undeniably excellent performers, and this production allowed them to showcase a range of different characterisations and accents, all of which were executed with panache. Franklin’s portrayal of brusque Scottish shop assistant, Claire was a particular favourite of mine, as Franklin really captured the intricacies of the character, and as an audience we were invited to both laugh at her and root for her. Nina, the workaholic wife with a fear of child-rearing, was perhaps the most believable of Franklin’s roles – her panic and contemplation at the prospect of becoming a mother was conveyed honestly and sensitively. Nina’s monologue, which takes place while she is waiting for the result of her pregnancy test, drew attention to the most unsure and undignified aspects of a character who from the outside seems to have it all together, a duality which Franklin communicated beautifully, whilst also encouraging us to reassess the way that womanhood and motherhood are perceived in society.
The differentiation between Comerford’s characters seemed to be less clear than that of Franklin’s, although this was perhaps more to do with the nature of the characters themselves than a fault of Comerford’s acting; he was brilliant throughout. His depiction of Colin, as he sat at his computer compiling a sarcastic email to his boss – and then promptly deleting the draft – was hilariously relatable. It was his role as the commuter James, however, in which he really shone, using fabulous expression and modulation in his thoroughly entertaining recount of how a simple nudge of a thigh on the train had escalated into a full-scale Hollywood romance in his head.
The script closed cleverly where it had begun, bringing the play full-circle; Prescot had chosen to have Comerford’s speech fade out at the end, which aptly signified the end of the audience’s involvement in these characters’ lives, and brought us back out to a distanced perspective. Such a thoughtful and engaging piece of theatre is not one to be missed, and I would encourage readers to go and see the very final performance of Hidden in Durham tonight.
Photograph: Leying Lee