Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Six Characters In Search Of An Author
Thursday, 21st January

Hello again,

I will once more venture to "guest appear" on Simon and Mark's blog as I am in need of a discussion about the "Six Characters in Search of an Author" adaptation that is playing as part of the Sydney Festival. To break tradition, it is still on. So you can actually go and see this one and I look forward to hearing what people thought.

I was disappointed. Not to say that there weren't many excellent things about the production but just that in terms of what it was marketed as eg. THE PLAY and what we saw, it was different. There is much to be said about the positive impact a re-imagining of a classic work can have and I think this can work marvellously (as reviews of Hamlet this year have shown). But when the adaptation dampens what is at the heart of the work and its main thesis, there is a point at which I become a purist and get a bit disgruntled (excellent word).

The company "Headlong" has made the setting an office building and reset it as a film company who are editing their latest documentary when six characters enter demanding their story be filmed. The set is fantastic. It is detailed and layered with a corridor and whole other room visible from a large window in the set of the office created on the stage- used to great effect. Angled monitors ensure that whenever the action of the characters is being recreated for their film we are able to see this from a variety of angles even if our view on stage is obscured. In this way the text is updated to feature a commentary on multi-media authorship and not just that of the print writer. This premise was what disappointed me. The realisation using the various techniques introduced by employing cameras was often inspired but lost what I see as the central theme of Pirandello's work: the theatre.

There is an immediacy that is created when the six characters revolt against theatrical construction in a theatre itself that is lost when the bulk of the text is wound up in the screen medium. Had this been a film version I think it would have been entirely appropriate. Instead, until its conclusion, the audience is not made aware at all of the theatrical environment they inhabit. I will hint that this is addressed in part at the conclusion with a series of alternate endings, that become painfully self-reflexive, but the power is diminished substantially. I also felt like the role of the Son and Mother had been cut to make way for the Father and Stepdaughter which meant their purpose in being unrealised characters went unpronounced and they simply became so. Some of the actors were also very soft so words were lost and audience members reshuffled to get closer which is unexpected amongst an accomplished cast. While the acting was strong I found the interpretation of the characters to be two dimensional and while yes, this is the point of them to an extent, we still need/want to relate and sympathise with them. In making this too shallow we have no vested interest in them or their cause and I felt as if we should have.

The ending was inconclusive, but in the sense that I was unsure what the director/adapter intended the piece to be inconclusive about. I feel this is no longer a critique based on my own assumptions of what the play should have been, but a critique on the construction of the piece in general. As realities begin to collide it becomes more and more self-referential with actors discussing the Sydney Festival itself and a literal death of the author occurring. Seemingly this is to highlight the 'what is reality?' theme but it does so in such a blatant way that I felt like it actually mocked and cheapened the conventions that essentially it was using- and not in a sophisticated way.

To avoid being overly negative though, there are a lot of reasons why you should see this play. You should see it for the sets and to see the more clever uses of the film genre to adapt it and make it something entirely new. You should see it for the acting (The Emperor' from "Star Wars" playing the Father). You should see it for the sound design, musical interludes and for the movement work. These being used to destabilise the naturalistic devices and blur the realities of the Characters and the editing team and are very powerful.

While I could view it as a separate text, I could not help but think that the adaptation cut out a lot of reasons why the Pirandello text is meaningful in the theatre, taking away much of the depth and meaning. I think that making texts new and relevant is always important but not when you aim to produce a specific work and lose what it is that makes that work great. You should also see it so that you can disagree with me.



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Holly said...

Hahahaha that comment was *such* a winner.

I agree with you on many points Jenni. I felt a certain amount of displacement having read the play and having some parts stick so closely so the script and having others veer wildly in another direction. It was almost like they played eeeny meeeny miiinie mo with which bits to "con-temporise" and which bits to leave.

I think the most interesting part of it for me was seeing it with my dad as opposed to theatre types (not that my dad is a complete theatre pleb, he used to be a lighting dude in london, worked on the original rocky horror!). Dad really enjoyed it and so I think I perhaps got some of my enjoyment out of that.

At the end of the show however, he said "well, I'm satisfied" and I almost swallowed my cheeks. I was left feeling wholly unsatisfied, it was like I'd been shown a collection of interesting ideas, some working some not and then suddenly, BAM it was like they shouted "BY THE WAY IT HAD DEEP MEANING THE WHOLE TIME". A variation on the "it was all a dream".

Let me say though, the acting was very very good... I too just felt that many of the characters were unrealised.

I didn't hate it though... it was too interesting to be hated.

Rachel R said...

I agree with Jenni - I felt that the seemingly endless self-reflexivity of the last half-hour of 'action' was mocking both theatrical convention and myself as an audience member, but in an entirely unsatisfying and unintelligent manner. I am all for an intelligent and unique shaking&breaking of conventions and standards, but i felt that this production fell very short of making any impact besides inducing a cringe. If the scenario of the play is removed from the world of theatrical representation and transposed to suit a filmed 'reality', why on earth was this not a filmed production for television? I'm not at all saying that it would be any good on screen rather than stage - simply that it lost relevance on stage. The characters (and actors) were threatening to fall short of two-dimensional, what with the stepdaughter's relentless strut and the flustered director's 'THIS IS REAL' panic. My subjective opinion of this production is that it failed on all counts except for having an interesting set (though sight-lines were an issue, which is strange in such a large, open space - i guess the use of televisions and sets got a bit clustered at times) and i have never wanted to leave a show at interval as badly as i wanted to leave this one. I left unsure of the intent and wholly disappointed.