Theatre of the Absurd is something of an acquired taste, with its normal situations peppered with leaps of logic and bizarre twists. Christopher Durang‘s curated series of six short extended sketches, seeks to give the world of film and theatre an absurd treatment. The Actor’s Nightmare, staged in the round in the Park 90, places the audience so close to the action they are almost part of it. The ensemble of five hard working talented actors are very exposed as they try to make the most of the material. If anything it is not absurd enough and seems puerile, or like an improv show at the Fringe with occasional elements that work outweighed by those that misfire.
It starts well with “Mrs Sorkin”, Kate Sumpter, holding centre stage and explaining in a sort of lecture, the meaning of theatre and its origin. She engages the audience well and shows good comic timing in the glances and looks she directs at them.
In the second piece, it is the Hollywood producers and writers who are parodied with Stephan Menaul (a failing writer) being offered two plot outlines by the overbearing predatory female producer, Meaghan Martin. It is completely odd how they circulate a restaurant table and pass a washing basket between them.
In the third sketch it is Greek drama with Medea (Kate Sumpter again) being mocked with a Greek chorus of three in masks circulating around her. The best gag is when they break into song from West End Story “I just met a girl called Medea”.
For no obvious reason the next piece is “Woman Stand Up”, with Meaghan Martin as a failing comic lampooning Joan Rivers and only finding comfort in the laughter track. But there is little new in the idea of the tragedy of insecure comedians.
In the fifth piece, “Desire, Desire , Desire”, Durang tries to parody the writing of Tennessee Williams and the characters of A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, with Layo-Christina Akinlude as Blanche Dubois and Adrian Richards as Stanley. It feels self indulgent, an in-joke about the relationships he wrote and seems (in the end) overblown and tedious.
Finally is the piece that gives the show its name, “The Actor’s Nightmare” which finds an accountant, Stefan Menaul, being mistaken for the Understudy in a play about to start. Is it Noel Coward’s Private Lives, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Robert Bolt “Man for all seasons”? We (like George, Stanley or Eddie) have not the faintest idea which play he is in and while the references raise a smile, the whole thing is fairly pointless. The characters are called after Victorian classic actors, Sarah Siddons, Ellen Terry and Sir Henry Irving, without any attempt to present themselves as such classical performers .
If anything I felt for the five performers who demonstrated they have the skills to do well but not with this material (which would not have made a Monty Python or Spike Milligan sketch) and must have felt at times, in this intimate venue, as an actor’s nightmare itself .
Reviewed by Nick Wayne
Photo: Ali Wright
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