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[Performance Analysis:] A CARAVAN NAMED DESIRE, Camden People's Theatre, London.

NB: To clarify: forenames alone are used to refer to the actors' onstage personae, where forenames and surnames are used together to refer to the actors, Helen and Alexander Millington, themselves.

This is an interesting performance but one whose focus, throughline or line of study I find difficult to identify, and this is an issue. Whilst themes of trust, confidentiality and privacy, intimacy, lust and love are recurrent, these are not sufficient to ground the performance and to give it an overall identity. There is also a stark interplay between metatheatricality and realism which has not been fully conceived, refined and integrated, and this complicates a reading of the performance further. The lack of emotional connection we are permitted with the characters, through Brechtian techniques, is most notable, yet why we are distanced to observe the series of, rather bluntly, quite banal events is unclear. We learn nothing at all about sex work or the industry, which is supposedly, as we are told by Alexander, the play's focus, and this would not be a problem if there was a sense of dramatic irony, that even though the character desires a specific outcome for this play and a message to come from it, we actually learn or experience something different. This would be acceptable, but I am not sure what we are to learn or take from this performance at all: enjoyment, education, or otherwise.

I shall start with this metatheatricality–realism interplay. First, the interactions during the overture, which sees the two actors roaming the stage, talking to one another 'out of character' and in the personae of our performing husband and wife duo, vocally unprepared and unaided by faulty technical mishaps. Perhaps this was due to the specificity of the night on which I saw the performance — i.e. perhaps the overture was extended to give a chance for more audience members to arrive — but these interactions were far too structured. Lines were repeated, as were movements, actions and the constant technical mishaps and reactions to these. The lines shared between the duo were also incongruous with the actual text — Helen expresses that she does not want to perform because she does not know what she is doing, but as soon as the play is ready to begin, we see no more hesitation throughout, only aggressive resistances to perform certain actions: to wear high heels, to re-enact sexual activities, etc.

Somehow, this is supposedly Helen's first time ever performing her husband's play, yet she reels off her lines perfectly, in early scenes barely looking at her script. She does not stumble over choreography and blocking, delivery is faultless, and, despite assuming the persona of an 'untrained' actress, Helen Millington's own natural credibility, skill and technique as an actual actress is left far too transparent — somewhat understandably, as, personally, I believe this to be the most difficult thing for actors to perform: to act as though an actor who cannot act.

This sense of structure, perfection and infallibility renders all metatheatrical techniques redundant: we are desired to believe that we are seeing disguise-less, authentic individuals, untrained[?] actors, performing characters, describing their intentions, bickering with one another, and yet natural occurrences, breaks in rhythm and momentum, awkwardnesses, etc., are not permitted. Alexander, for example, especially as merely 'the writer', performs far too robotically, rhythmically, deliberately, characterising all personae with a distinct nervousness, where perhaps caricaturisation should be used to differentiate distinctly character from actor — one reason as to why Brecht himself conceived the Gestus.

One particular example of this unwanted ‘perfection’ and mimetic structure is in what I shall refer to as the ‘36 questions scene’, where lighting and sound design, in particular, along with Helen’s lack of hesitation to perform the sharp blocking with a moment’s notice, present us with an unbroken, polished vignette into the fictional characters’ lives. Perhaps an attempt at a Brechtian fragmented sequence, but this was far too mimetic and undisrupted. I should also note that the duration of this particular scene ought to be cut down significantly for both efficacy and appeal, as should that of the ‘eye contact sequence’ where we are enabled to settle into the fictive space for far too long, undisturbed…and for what cause?

The role and function of the audience are most questionable, as well. Suddenly active participants after having only been spoken to and not with as passive spectators, we are to be considered throughout this performance as witnesses, aggressors, silent listeners, and voters, amongst others, and these roles have significant differences and allow for vastly disparate psychological results amongst audiences. The difference, for example, between an audience member being called on stage during a merely comedic scene of no political value and with no effect whatsoever upon the narrative, pretending to be a sex worker’s client, and having audience members decide where upon the actor’s body a bruise is to be depicted. These demand two entirely different psychological states from the audience — and, again, why? There seems to be no apparent reason behind such intense audience play. And what if the audience, particularly another one so intimate, refuses altogether to participate, which is quite likely due to the lack of coaxing and audience preparation and the abruptness of this demand for a brave volunteer, especially with intimate audiences? How is the play prepared for such a hesitancy type? I do not think the creatives are prepared at all for such an occurrence.

I will say, however, that this performance is the first I have seen in a long time that has, overall, used Brechtian techniques with an understanding of their nature and aesthetic. Whilst compromised by a lack of aim and focus, and by the mimetic quality of the performance, all of the techniques used in this performance are generally cohesive and well-informed in themselves. This is a huge achievement.

The actors are also confident and bold, and both have good stage presence, resilience, vitality and skill. Technique, then, is most promising for this duo in their choices for both acting and performance styles; however, how these techniques can be successfully incorporated into and utilised/weaponised in performance has yet to be discovered. An analogy to clarify what I mean: the correct hammer has been used to insert the nail, where usually people use the incorrect tool altogether, but the nail has, unfortunately, been inserted into the wrong site. Techniques are used with a sophisticated awareness but with no reason and to no avail. I would thus recommend above all else that these particular creatives ask themselves for every decision in performances like these two questions: What effect will this have on my audience? And, most importantly, why have I decided to do this?

“An intriguing performance with great promise but one who has yet to discover its purpose, aims and focus.”


Additional Notes on This Performance [for the Requester of this Review]

This technical analysis is included for free as part of The Performance Critic’s standard service. Please get in touch with Lee James Broadwood to receive your additional support and notes, as part of a premium analysis, concerning:

  • Ascertaining Complete and Beneficial Metatheatricality

  • Pinpointing the Focus of the Written Text

  • Acting Style and Characterisation Techniques [and Brecht]

  • Congruous and Coherent Incorporation of Audiences

  • Ascertaining Audience Participation and Preparing for Lack Thereof

  • Potential Marketing Strategies

These will be shared privately upon request.


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