By Helena Snider
Konstandin Normandeau would have been funny had it been intended as a comedy. As it stood, it was deeply unfunny, and also the greatest exercise in self-indulgence I have ever had the misfortune of witnessing.
There were lines that were bad but forgivable. And then there were lines like, ‘people treat you as though you were their shoes in Klute.’ I feel sorry for the actors who had to maintain straight faces and a level of sincerity whilst delivering phrases such as these.
On a more positive note, the acting was by far the best part of the production. Joe Pape and Richard Dyer – who played James and Guy respectively – should be commended on their enthusiasm and believability, as should Issey Pistor for playing such a non-character so well. Petra Jory was similarly good and did an impressive Californian accent.
I am not really sure if it’s worth recounting the plot because, well, I’m not convinced that there was one. It is of course possible that I just completely failed to understand the play, and if that’s the case then I apologise in advance. Judging by the looks of other audience members, however, and frankly sometimes even the actors themselves, I somewhat suspect that a feeling of intense confusion was not unique to me.
So I will try to explain here what I think happened. The first half of the play was at least coherent, and more than that, at times even exciting. It was about a man called Konstandin Normandeau, a Durham University student, who decides to write a play (so meta!). His friends discourage him and when he does eventually perform the play, he’s told that it is bad and “too long.” Again, I wish the irony of these statements was intentional but I’m not sure that was the case.
Bearing in mind that by the time we reach the interval, we were already one and a half hours in, the second half of the play was really painful to sit through. I watched an audience member drink an entire bottle of wine during the play’s final hour. I could not tell you what happens here, other than that the protagonist – which feels like the wrong word for such an intensely unlikeable character – goes mad. There was lengthy quoting from both Hamlet and The Bible. It was both bizarre and nonsensical.
So, if you want to understand the overall tone of the play look no further than the director’s note, which reads, ‘Having consulted the greats, both Leibniz and Descartes, I am informed we live in the meilleur of all possible worlds and that the existence of a being is necessitated if, in its particular domain, there is nothing I can conceive of that would act as its improvement. What could be better than a man with such a name with such an occupation?’
Your probable reaction to the above quotation encapsulates my general feelings towards the play: this is intentionally pretentious, and ironic, right? Not so. The play actually had the potential to be really funny; had it taken the mickey out of its pomposity, it might have worked.
So the issue was not the staging, nor the acting; it was the script. Nonetheless, there could have been improvements in other areas. The venue was Alington House, which was in itself fine, though the lack of an actual stage made it difficult for those sitting near the back to see the props and scenery. All I could see was floating heads. There was no ‘lighting’ as such – just a light switch, that periodically turned on and off at such random intervals that it was unintentionally comic.
By the end, I wasn’t even sure if I’d imagined the whole thing – that’s how surreal it was. I’ll let you decide for yourselves whether it’s worth attempting to decipher this mess of chaos and confusion.
‘Konstandin Normandeau’ will be performed at Alington House from Thursday, 2nd March to Saturday 4th March at 19:30. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Bailey Theatre Company