This review will consider Mary and Mietek, written by Maria Laumark, directed by Abigail Smith, and performed at The Space in London.
The atmosphere created by the dim lights, the hypnotic and calming music (composed by Joel Marten), and the fantastical arrangement of the letters seen spread across the back wall of the stage and suspended from lines from the ceiling (set design by Ruth Newbery-Payton), is most impressive. In its simplicity, the design for this performance is effective, providing the performance with an air of whimsciliaty and mysticism whilst drawing little attention away from the character action on stage. In this way, design generates mood and draws our focus well.
Music and sound effects are also expertly composed and designed by Marten. I would just be aware of the significant and distractive metatheatricality it produces to have him on stage at all times, watching the action. This distancing effect is not present in any other aspect of the performance, allowing for a stylistic inconsistency, as we are taken out of the illusion of the play and into the reality of a volume button-adjusting and prerecorded audio-playing musician. I would recommend either some physical barrier between the musician and the stage or complete concealment, to minimise the psychological effects of the coincidence of these two creative territories, or that that the text's representation itself become more self-aware and employ more metatheatrical devices to accommodate Marten's anti-illusory presence. For obvious reasons, I recommend the former over the latter.
As for representation, Laumark (also playing Mary and Alma) and Louis Cruzat (playing Mietek and Ben) are good performers. An excellent chemistry has been formed and nurtured between them, and this comes through wonderfully in their presentations. The two have great energy, for the most part, and perform with great credibility, even in spite of certain unnatural and corny aspects of the written text they must deliver.
The greatest issue I find with their performance is in regard to transformativity. Beyond a minute change in Cruzat's vocal delivery, the two struggle to particularise their two characters explicitly, to the point where it would often be difficult, nay impossible, to discern which character they were presenting without the telling aid of the dialogue and changes in lighting states. I would urge the creatives to develop some specificities, peculiarities, idiosyncrasies that both better signal their change of characters and permit them to perform each authentically and with nuance and conviction. Certainly, Cruzat homes his focus in on his diction, and Laumark performs more energetically, with more expressive physicality, when the two portray Mary and Mietek, but these shifts are far too understated and, moreover, decrease in intensity considerably as the performance progresses.
However, the difficulty to discern one character from another could originate from the text itself and its disruption of the chronology of the two stories. We understand that we are at an airport and are led to imagine that any representation stylistically and temporally distinguishable must be the story of Mary and Mietek. With this in mind, the presentation time itself becomes too chaotic: not only do we have Mary and Mietek's past playing out before us, we also have Ben and Alma's past as well as their present. This presentation allows for a semiotic and temporal disconnect, challenging the flow, narrative style and legibility of the overall text. To reiterate here: with these three, essentially different characters per actor, this is another reason why transformativity is so important.
This text also suffers from a common problem: towards the middle-end, it loses its poeticism and credibility and becomes a mere mouthpiece for the sociopolitical views of the writer. What were once expressive and heartfelt passages and phrases become lengthy lectures that lose all credibility in their explicitness. It is clear, given the disconnect between the characters and their repeated acknowledgements of the differences in each other's political opinions, that the two would already be completely aware of one another's philosophies and world views. To ingeminate them in such detail is unnatural, unrealistic and a clear device to communicate underlying sociopolitical themes. In this way, the articulation of the play's sociopolitical agenda ought to be reconsidered and refined. I would recommend as well that politics find its way into the script much earlier on in the text, that it is present throughout the story, shaping it, reflecting it, progressing it naturally and organically. Otherwise, as it currently stands, political dwellings seem far too incongruous with the tone and style of the performance hitherto.
Alma begs Ben to tell her why he showed her the letters, and the answer is obviously rather significant to our reading, given that this would bring purpose and reason to an integral aspect of the text and story. Yet, we receive no substantial answer beyond "Because I love you." This is one example of the manner in which the two [three, to be pedantic] stories remain unmarried, disjointed. Underplayed sociopolitics being the only thing that relates these stories to one another, as well as the general and inconsequentially generic theme of love, we are given little to understand why these stories have been placed beside one another, of which parallels we should be aware, and what these coincidences mean for the characters and their present and future.
There are many moments in this performance [which I imagine to be of directorial as opposed to editorial origin] wherein the mood and content of plot and dialogue clash with stylistic decisions and visual cues. This increases to an almost ridiculous degree by the end of the performance, where seriousness, tragedy and heartfelt passion are replaced by a certain cheekiness, a playful insincerity. For example, that Laumark should pull out a full-body down suit, exaggerative and camp in the randomness of its appearance, its incongruity with the atmosphere of the scene, its size and colour, and its irrelevance to any other aspect of Alma's character and her destination, is a peculiar and laughable choice decision. By this point, we are permitted to laugh during these serious scenes, and so the quality of others that are not so campy or overplayed, such as Ben having recorded the Polish translation for 'I love you' on his forearm in case he should forget it, are also afforded this same comedic reception. In this way, style and atmosphere are at war with the feeling, mood and content of the text, prompting, unsurprisingly, the audience to laugh at moments of tension and sorrow. Other, less destructive decisions feel incongruous and corny — one such decision being the catching of the suspended letters, performed slowly, attentively. This deliberate disruption of the scene to perform such a stylised and melodramatic action is too disjointed and unnecessarily marked, once more, in its mysticism and pacing, stylistically incongruous with the rest of the performance wherein no such other stylised movements are performed.