Review: DDF – Stages Fool by James Murray

By

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A largely solo performance featuring a nameless He, the sole survivor of the Apocalypse. Having stolen away to the stage to spend his last moments in monologue, he finds he has more time to do so than he anticipated. The premise sets the play up perfectly: an actor so wrapped up in the theatre, having been rejected by, or rejecting, society. One gets the sense that the theatre is the only place that this figure feels accepted: ‘all these people coming together’ with a common goal. Accordingly, this is something of an Ode to Theatre itself, and is full of meta references to great playwright and full of theatre tropes. If, like me, you failed English and so do not get any of these references, the witty cynical remarks on broader society provide this play with merit of its own, besides referencing the greats.

A monologue is the perfect medium for this proud performance, allowing a space where all the focus is on him, including his own

The lead, Charlie Howe, is a wonderfully silly character, dressed in a pink blouse and with silly hair (sorry). He is the quintessential Durham boy: a bit puny, if very clever. Anything is an excuse for a speech, with the original topic quickly being forgotten as he searches for just the right word. The play opens with him lying saintly on the stage, and this pride is expressed throughout. He is an actor, and fully embodies that role. A large part of the monologue is silence, and these the lead commanded well. Any accusations of overwriting or overacting could become part of the piece, being blamed on the dramaticism of the actor being portrayed. A monologue is the perfect medium for this proud performance, allowing a space where all the focus is on him, including his own. Luckily, the soliloquy avoids being monotone thanks to a strong, confident performance from the lead that prevented stagnation. He did not shy at being the sole centre of attention, and carried off his role professionally. This is also aided by being divided by three intermissions, featuring readings from plays. Although these did give a nice rhythm to the play, preventing fatigue from setting in, they were under-acted. They were read out over the PA, and could have been something from a school assembly, so reluctantly were they delivered.

In many ways this is a play and a review of two halves. The standout performance of a lead is lost, as he is reduced to a weeping ball on the floor. With it, the melodrama of the character, which was so funny and forgiving, is lost, as the focus moves away from him-as-him and moves to his situation, which was far less interesting. I wrote that any occurrence is an excuse for him to wax lyrical. I was quite content with these occurrences being just that, excuses, without any actual strong focus on them in themselves. It was all about him. But in the second half these speech prompts move into the centre. It is a little frustrating, as the entertaining ramblings are subordinated to their cues.

One of the things that really worked was the venue, the seats being in the round allowing total immersion and focus on the one

It felt a little like the play had run out of things to say, the lead all talked out. Indeed, the ending did not say anything, and brought nothing new. The play had not done sufficient work on the plot in order to warrant its taking precedence as the ending, nor did it need such an ending. In this DDF format, seeing plays back-to-back, one cannot help but compare. Something common between this and the last (The Children of Yesterday) was that they forced a conclusion on a play that did not need, nor want for, a conclusion. They tried to force the play into a conventional structure, as if out of a deference to a learned understanding of how things are done. The entrance of the second actor, Them, was totally unnecessary and in fact jarred with the whole performance. One of the things that really worked was the venue, the seats being in the round allowing total immersion and focus on the one. Having someone enter the stage from the audience broke an intimacy that had developed between the audience and actor; the focus was split as it was taken off-stage.

So jarring are the two halves that they cannot be consolidated in the mind, and stand as two separate events. I therefore do not want my criticism of the second half to contaminate my praise of the first. I commend the writer and director on such a strong first half, but only wish they had had the confidence to end it sooner.

Image credit: Blizzard Theatre Company

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

 

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.