There is a certain boldness in staging Pirandello’s lesser-known drama Naked at the Jack Studio. Whilst riveting at points, resident-playwright Howard Coyler’s adaptation is a little tepid. Naked is the story of a young woman, Ersilia Drei, who has recently attempted suicide. She is released from hospital into the care of a famous novelist. Intrigued by her life story, the novelist’s intentions clearly extend beyond genuine altruism. He implants his own narrative upon her so as to create material for a novel. A series of supporting characters arrive and similarly, force their own stories and perceptions of the young woman upon her. Doubts are even cast about the genuineness of her own account of the events and motives surrounding her suicide attempt. The young woman is twisted out of shape by each character and chaos ensues. Naked feels like a sort of proto-Baudrillard exploration of the distance between ‘reality’ and perceptions of ‘reality’ but is slightly clumsy and a little predictable.
Coyler sets Pirandello’s drama in London, the winter of 1979-80. This decision is somewhat bewildering. Aside from the odd echo of The Clash playing faintly in the background, and fleeting references to Blackheath and Greenwich, we never feel honestly cemented or convinced in this new context. It feels forced. This ‘forced’ feeling is reflected in the casts’ performances which ebb with over-acting. Josephine Rattigan is faced with the daunting task of portraying the protagonist, Ersilia, and she toils with the role. This production of Naked generally feels lost and labored, struggling to come to terms with itself.
Naked is a one-act play set in a small rented flat. The elderly landlady, Mrs Hood (Jean Apps) offers tinges of humour which liven the production. The finest aspect of Naked is the set design. The drama unfolds amidst a murky room, one corner of it engulfed in a pile of books. The accomplished set highlights the inherent promise and potentiality of the intimate space at the Jack Studio. Unfortunately this ambitious production does not make the most of such a wonderful, South-London theatre.