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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Minerva Theater, Chichester


  Eleanor David, Ian McDiarmid and Denise Gough/PH: Tristram Kenton

Rupert Goold whose gift to last year's Chichester Festival was an astonishingly vibrant new approach to Macbeth, returns this year with an equally innovative, brilliantly inventive "take" on Pirandello's classic drama Six Characters in Search of an Author. Actually, a more accurate title might be Six Characters in Search of a Director, because, if ever there was an instance of the director as auteur this is it. Indeed, not only does Goold call the shots, together with Ben Power he has adapted this iconic Italian conundrum, first presented to a baffled audience in 1921.

Concerned with themes of reality and illusion, truth and fiction, the play redefined the parameters of modern drama, and its importance to the contemporary theater cannot be over-estimated.

In the original play, a group of actors are midway into a rehearsal of a Pirandello comedy when, from nowhere, a group of six characters materialize and demand that their story, rather than the one being rehearsed, be dramatized.

The story they want told concerns a father (Ian McDiarmid), estranged from his wife (Eleanor David) and children, who visits a brothel and has sex with his prostitute stepdaughter (Denise Gough looking as though she's been created by cartoonist Charles Addams). His wife is consumed with grief and guilt, and the whole sorry saga ends in tragedy with the deaths, following a family reconciliation, of his two young children.

While In Goold's update the family dynamics remain the same as in Pirandello's original, the six eponymous characters do not interrupt a rehearsal, but invade a TV editiing suite (wonderfully designed by Miriam Buether) where a group of documentary film-makers are attempting to piece together a programme on the assisted suicide in Denmark of a terminally ill 14 year-old boy.

The show's executive producer (John Mackay) isn't happy with some of the material they've shot and is especially concerned that there isn't enough footage of the boy himself, who has since died. It's a situation which allows Goold several riffs on the topical question of fake reality TV.

It's at this crisis point in the editing of the documentary that the six characters appear and insist that their story be filmed. With nothing to lose, except, perhaps, a bit of time, the show's director (Noma Dumezweni)reluctantly allows the intruders to take centre stage until their tragedy has played itself out.

Dazzlingly capturing the essence and spirit of Pirandello, but with a contemporary twist of which the maestro would thoroughly have approved, Goold manages to provide a modern-day audience with the same shock tactics audiences in 1921 would certainly have experienced. Inevitably Goold will be criticized by taking the concept too far and by cramming too many themes into the mix. But for me the overall effect was exhilarating. If you're going to stage Six Characters in 2008, Goold's bold approach is spot on.

With its topical references, its reliance on video and DVD technology and on such inventive sequences as the one in which we follow McDiarmid out of the Minerva and onto the main Chichester stage during the 76 Trombones number from their current hit The Music Man, this is about as contemporary as a production can get.

Clearly, Goold and Powers's update is quite an excursion from the original text. especially the shocking ending. But, as I say, it's true to the spirit of what Pirandello was attempting 87 years ago, and I cannot imagine anyone who enjoys a wild theatrical adventure not responding favourably to this really exciting occasion.


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