You don’t put something like that on, you take it on, and if you’re not prepared to do that with fearless commitment and without a hint of self-consciousness then, frankly, you’ll lose. In that regard, last night’s performance struggled to an honourable, if messy draw.
It got most of its points from the staging. There’s a lot of theatre to be had here – dance and live music (performed excellently by the cast and a quartet lurking at the edges of the stage), sudden changes of lighting and mood, all very well handled by cast and crew alike, using the Burton Taylor’s awkard space to its fullest extent. There’s also clearly been some serious thinking done on the play’s complex themes – particularly in the way it handles the fervency of religion and its close affiliation with psychiatric disturbance.
It’s with the words that things become a little wobbly. They’re not Kane’s strong suit anyway – the play is a bit overwritten and tends towards the heavy handed, so anything that breaks the spell created by its extraordinary rhythm threatens to topple the narrative into parodic melodrama.
Alas this happens too often, mainly because there doesn’t seem to have been as much thought put into the verbal performance as the visual. The performers continuously fall into the ‘shouting trap’, where volume is lazily assumed to convey dramatic intensity. Lines are occasionally swallowed and garbled. Repetitions which should have been agonising are rushed over as if they were embarassing aberrations. Jokes (and there are quite a few) are delivered poorly. The male lead’s one big comic moment in particular – the doctor’s waiting room gag - is magnificently ruined, roared over the heads of the audience like an Am Dram Lear in an otherwise brave performance.
These weren’t obtrusive failings, and might have passed unnoticed in a different setting. Here, though, they break the spell, providing an unwanted ‘out’ and allowing the audience, unforgivably, to remind themselves that they’re really only watching a play.