Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Love, Lies and Taxidermy (Theatr Clwyd, Mold)

Theatre presented in the round (ie, with the audience encircling the stage, which often has few or no vertical backdrops) is an ingenious way of making those watching a play feel part of the proceedings, or at least closer to them. The "us and them" barrier is removed by having the performance take place just feet (sometimes inches!) away from the audience. You can see the actors' faces clearer, the expressions they make, often even the thoughts running through their minds. It can be a beautifully immersive device to make the experience more memorable to the viewer, and more exhilarating for the performer.

But one drawback of staging in the round is that at some point the performers will have their back to one section of the audience, meaning projection is key to maintaining that shared space relationship. The most common way of tackling this is to have the performers move regularly around the space, changing direction and perspective so as to keep as many plates spinning as possible.

Love, Lies and Taxidermy - a hit at this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe - is a three-handed play with no interval over the course of 70 minutes, performed in the round with no props and no set. It is told through the media of performance and imagination. But director George Perrin's choice to have the actors perform at breakneck pace often works against the piece as a whole, as key moments in Alan Harris's quaint, touching story get enveloped by the tumbling of one line into the next.

The rapid-fire delivery of the three actors is impressive in that they don't smudge a word, don't fall over one another and don't deviate from their relentless paths. But the fact there are few or no pauses for narrative breath means the audience is left in a whirl trying to catch up and keep up, and rarely gets the chance to think ahead (something that can be quite fun when watching new writing).

This Bren gun delivery means that some of what the actors are saying gets lost easily when they are turned away (I apparently missed an entire reference to Back to the Future because of this). The performers cannot be faulted for not projecting well, but it is the combination of relentlessly brisk delivery, the in the round staging and the ever-so-slightly too loud score bubbling under the dialogue that combines to make the play an exhausting experience.

Harris's play is a delightful story, written with huge dollops of humour and swathes of pop culture references, in particular to film and cinema. The characters are well drawn, with quirks and idiosyncrasies portrayed over the course of 70 minutes that some TV soap stars would kill for in their entire career.

Remy Beasley and Andy Rush
Emanating a bright, fun, loveable aura is Remy Beasley, who plays each of her characters with a breathtaking lightness of touch. Seen briefly, but memorably, is her Conservative grandee, an amusing grotesque right out of a comedy sketch show yet to be filmed. Beasley gets most of the funniest lines, and manages to deliver them with the timing and impact they deserve, and is a force of nature on the stage as she twirls and skips about to cover the floor.

Playing central character Valentine is Andy Rush, a vulnerable looking soul who pitches the character's faltering self-confidence just right, making him relatable and likeable without coming across as the archetypal boy-next-door hero. Valentine is more than that, a good, decent young man with his heart in the right place (where would be the wrong place?).

Richard Corgan perhaps has the hardest task of playing a series of characters of great contrast - the nervy Mr Tutti Frutti whose ice cream business is collapsing but who can't bring himself to admit it; the forthright Polish Jakob whose love of taxidermy and Merthyr Tydfil makes him both unusual and amusing; the toady porn film director Maxi whose scratchy tics and mannerisms ooze repulsive (not sure where his accent's from though); and Tesco manager Richard, seen very briefly but who features in a scene near the end where Corgan has to run through all of his characters in rapid succession, and with masterful clarity.

The fact the actors have to perform a number of characters also adds to the ball of confusion concocted in the round. Not only does the audience have to concentrate on who's saying what and when, they have to work out which who is saying what, and who the next person is in relation to them. There's a lovely device where the performers sit on seats among the audience and occasionally shoot lines at their neighbour, or to the person sitting behind them, and most stage directions and narrative descriptions are performed as asides, like a visual audiobook. This adds to audience inclusiveness, but thankfully with no actual interaction.

Alan Harris's play may well benefit from bursts of rapid-fire delivery as seen in George Perrin's production, but for it to be sustained relentlessly for the entirety of the piece can work against both the comedy and the narrative, which sometimes needs a little more breathing space to shine and have fuller effect. There's no knocking the script or the actors, but perhaps a more evenly paced staging would give Love, Lies and Taxidermy a greater impact as the audience files out. As it is, many of them will have a smile on their face, but sadly may have missed some of the best gags or overlooked some of the delicacy in the writing.

The stats
Writer: Alan Harris
Director: George Perrin
Cast: Remy Beasley, Richard Corgan, Andy Rush (various characters)
Performed at Theatr Clwyd, Mold, November 2nd to 12th, 2016. Performance reviewed: November 7th, 2016

Love, Lies and Taxidermy on Theatr Clwyd website (retrieved Nov 7 2016)
Love, Lies and Taxidermy on the Sherman Cymru website (retrieved Nov 7 2016)

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