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[Performance Analysis:] THE CLOSURE AND THE QUEST, Barons Court Theatre, London.

I will start by noting that there are significant similarities between the two texts but only insofar as structure and event type; style and content disallow a feeling that these two performances truly cohere with and relate to one another and hence warrant being presented together. Marketing efforts present these as 'plays about loss and redemption', but these themes are secondary and sometimes even merely subtextual in the second short play, 'The Distressed Table'. I should also note here that I do find it strange that this second play has been retitled to 'The Closure' across promotional content — both because this seems to have little relevance to the text itself and because this causes for another disconnect, between performance and marketing contents.

The second of these two performances, both directed by Josh Hinds, is certainly stronger than the first, and I would recommend further work on this, which is closer to a refined, finished play than the other. Both texts do struggle considerably to depict enriched and particularised characters, presenting developments abruptly and with a certain nonchalance vaguely reminiscent of a fledgeling magical realism. The texts also struggle to retain subtlety in their expression, with any allusions and specific details becoming immediate events. Overall, the content feels rushed and disjointed.

In terms of acting, there is a great disparity in style, which is notably a directorial issue and is most evident in the first performance of the two, in which there is a great struggle between caricaturality and naturalism. However, I understand that for actors presented with texts like these, subtlety and particularity is difficult to discern and discover, and caricaturality is impossible to prevent when extremity and unnatural speech patterns in the dialogue exist within the lines and plot themselves. Nonetheless, the performers, whom I commend for their work, perform their roles adequately. Jo Sutherland demonstrates excellent vitality and transformativity, with her two character profiles being entirely different from one another. Similarly, Aysha Niwaz demonstrates great vocal transformativity, and Daniel Subin has a great naturalistic quality to his first profile. I would have liked to have seen greater corporeal expressivity in Subin, however, who limits transformation between his two characters to the positioning of the mouth — in Bernard's lisp.


'Quest for the Mongolian Death Worm'

Written by Liam Grady.

Most notably, the mysticality and adventure of this first text can immediately be perceived, instead, as Orientalism, which is worth reconsidering. Allusions to magical creatures that do not exist, or exaggerative descriptions of the food chains and activities of mythic vicious beasts, feel more fairytale-like in nature and hence unproblematic, but specific depictions of contexts, namely as we are led by an experienced, wild and mysterious guide through the 'dangerous' Egyptian deserts with 'camels attempting to fornicate with the Sphynx' — camels whose 'arseholes', nonetheless, see frequent mention — feel too stereotypical, carelessly crass, and harsh. I would consider the sociopolitical value behind the content presented and how this may be perceived by audiences.

Of the two presented, I struggled the most with this text — specifically, it is difficult to keep up with its content, which demands at each revelation of new information a keen eye and a level of pre-understanding, to know the subtext and piece the story together. From the very beginning, characters are presented to us abruptly and without clear relationship types. Their emotional responses to one another are highly charged, with no key reason as to why, and too much of the content owes to mystical lands and creatures and Rufus's (Sutherland) descriptions of them and her father's travels, and later Heather's (Niwaz) psychedelic trip, that the primary content, the actual story of the characters, becomes subordinate and ultimately lost. Persistent themes, such as death and adventure, instead of contextualising the action, become, in their vague vignettes, the content itself.

“A confused text presenting rudimentary character and event types that result in inefficacious extremes.”


'The Distressed Table'

Written by Melville Lovatt.

Ironically, I would have preferred less of a plot for this text and more of a surreal and absurdist structural approach that does seem to be inherent in the characters’ exchange over the distressed table. There is a clowning and ludicrous quality intrinsic to the interactions between the characters: they obsess over the meticulous, obscure details of the table’s 'distressing', haggling its price; they wildly upset one another; and return only to repeat the conversation with a variation that initially subverts expectation and has a bathos effect once we realise the characters are starting once again to quarrel. I would have enjoyed this initial structure to return persistently, veritably forcing us to watch the two characters suffering themselves and causing each other to suffer as well over the table’s purchase. Indeed, I would have preferred this much more than the current content that frequently and needlessly returns, somewhat reflective of the first text, to out-of-the-blue extremes: suicide, imprisonment, divorce, etc.

Again, plot developments feel rushed and too strategised: for instance, Bernard (Subin) reveals he is a sailor, and we are straightaway on a boat on the lake. Extremifying, instead, this caricatural presentation of Bernard and Christine (Sutherland) — accentuating his lisp and stubborn but bumbling attitude and her posh uptightness and propensity to deplore — would really accentuate the fruitful and endearing quality of this performance: its characters' interactions.

Once more, we have 'proud Indonesian tribes' responsible for the table wood and its finish, and our Orientalism returns... This one detail ignored, the text itself is quite endearing and untroublesome in comparison the first. Its characters are developed not through backstories [an attempt at which ultimately dilutes and artificialises the content unnecessarily to meet playtext conventions] but through peculiarities of context and character speech. I would recommend further thought to the secondary material — Bernard's failing relationship with his wife (Niwaz), and Christine's speech to her husband[?] who has died after being imprisoned[?] [a scene that I would ultimately cut, as this did not progress narrative or story and was confounding in its content]. This secondary content ultimately feels irrelevant and compromises our understanding and appreciation of the primary material.

“An interesting premise with eccentric characters compromised by interruptions from secondary or irrelevant material.”


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

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:

  • Coherency in and organisation of multiple plots/narratives.

  • Maintaining naturalism in absurdist/exaggerative performances.

  • Effects of metatheatre and encroachment on audience territory.

  • Maintaining clarity and depth in character development.

  • Subtlety and revelation in plot content.

These will be shared privately upon request.


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