OnStageScotland Independent Arts Reviews Online
A Life In The Theatre
Schadenfreude Productions return to the Fringe with a relatively light-hearted presentation of David Mametís A Life in the Theatre.
Like many Mamet plays, the drama revolves around miscommunication and the threat of social exclusion. Robert, played by David Cann, is an older actor slowly coming to end of his career.
He looks on the much younger John, played by Jonathan Rhodes, as a vessel to whom he can pass on his experience and knowledge. John, unfortunately, doesnít care to listen. He simply desires to do his job without the nagging lectures of his partner.
The play seems perfectly suited for the Edinburgh Fringe. In an audience full of actors, directors and performers of every age, the crises of Robert and John become startlingly poignant. Whether it is Robertís fears of retirement or Johnís uncertainty of the future, almost everyone can probably identify with one or the other.
Where the production seems to stumble, however, is in deciding on a tone. Director Garret David Millerick perhaps overemphasises the goofiness of the characters; instead of a progressive arc showing the deepening relationship between Robert and John, we experience a disconnected series of comedy routines which flow into one another with no feeling of general consequence.
While certainly not a tragedy, the play does have tragic elements, but these often feel out of place among the farcical behaviour of the characters. Genuinely serious ideas such as depression and possibly attempted suicide can leave the audience completely lost and unsure how to react.
When humorous situations do arise, Cann and Rhodes are at their best. Their early scenes are filled with laughter, as each demonstrates the power that good comedic timing and inflection can produce. Physical comedy, used to illustrate the silliness of actor warm-up routines, is used effectively. It becomes a sort of inside-joke to the audience, demonstrating the visual absurdities of the profession.
Cann in particular embodies how hilarious actors can truly be. His whimsical nature is only restrained by the seriousness of his belief in what he is saying.
Although written in 1978, Mametís work has not aged one bit. Presented here in a simple-but-effective production, it is a vivacious and reflective look on the real-life theatricality that goes into - well, making theatre.
Reviews From Time Out & The Times
Time Out, 10th December 2003:
Finborough Theatre - Fringe
As Christmas shows go, 'Young Emma' lacks a few traditional ingredients: rosy-cheeked children, supernatural occurrences - any actual mention of Christmas. It also adds a few you wouldn't expect in such an offering, such as frottage and venereal disease. Nevertheless, for sheer heart-warming, frown-line-smoothing, step-lightening bloody loveliness, this is the Yuletide show to delight and send you home full of love for your fellow man.
Middle-aged poet WH Davies ('What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?' - that's his) goes looking for a wife on the streets of London. As if in a fairy tale, he tries three women of different kinds to no avail before he meets Young Emma, a girl whose homely love wholly enraptures him, until he develops an STD.
The piece is adapted from the poet's memoirs, and Davies narrates his own story accordingly. It's a device that can be stale, but Laura Wade (writer) and Tamara Harvey (director) are in control, adding self-aware quips and bits of business that freshen but never undermine.
It's a help that David Cann is glorious as Davies, his chauvinism carried off with endearing wit and sincerity of manner, and with the kind of Welsh vowels that could make poetry out of TO's listings. Anna Ledwich perfectly renders the charms of WH's three very differently attractive early conquests. Margot Molinari's Emma shines with wholesome primness, while just leaving room for Davies' doubts.
The drama is slight, but Wade's script never makes too much of it, skipping through the tale, spicing all with gentle humour. This is a sweet, bawdy Fringe gem. Go see it. It's enriching.
The Times, 16th December 2003
WHAT is this life if, full of care/ We have no time to stand and stare?" - who would have thought that the author of that well-loved gentle, reflective verse,Leisure, led such a scandalous life? An unorthodox literary lion who spent his twenties travelling America as a tramp, the Welsh poet W. H. Davies decided, in middle age, that it was time to find a woman to settle down with. Uninterested in the many society ladies to whom he was introduced, he planned to seek out a wife "in the common streets" of 1920s London.
He chronicled his search in the memoir Young Emma, upon which this adaptation by Laura Wade is based.
It's essentially a pretty seedy tale, yet Tamara Harvey's highly enjoyable production brings such warmth and charm to this strange love story that it's possible to feel affection for its protagonist, despite his numerous faults. Davies's first potential wife is Bella, an alcoholic prostitute whose husband is away at the Great War. She is succeeded by a charming but fickle Frenchwoman, Louise, and then a nameless aristocratic lady with a taste for sado-masochistic antics. Only when he meets a meek, sweet young seamstress does Davies feel that here, at last, is a woman he cannot live without - until he begins to suspect Emma of harbouring a secret that could be the death of them both.
David Cann is captivating as the wayward poet, his eyes sparkling as he recounts the pungent details of his escapades, and Margot Molinari is an affecting, child-like Emma. Anna Ledwich has tremendous fun playing all of Davies's other women, as well as his hilariously sour-faced housekeeper, Mrs Larkins. The set design, by Gabriella Csanyi-Wills, affords us an almost uncomfortably intimate view into Davies's poky London flat, dominated by the bed where he enjoys many an uninhibited romp.
It's a shame Wade and Harvey never really tackle the less palatable aspects of Davies's character. He regards his lovers as entirely disposable, and even when he finds his ideal in Emma his manner towards her is disturbingly proprietorial and patronising - an attitude the production seems to indulge rather than question. "She's not a great talker by any means. Not a great brain," he informs the audience, all but winking to ensure our complicity.
Still, this is a fascinating glimpse of an extraordinary life. I suspect even Davies - who, after writing Young Emma, lost his nerve and suppressed its publication - would have approved.