The Faction’s monologue series returns to the New Diorama.
The Man With A Flower In His Mouth – Pirandello, adapted by Mark Leipacher
The solitary figure of a man Laclan McCall is sat, toying with his drink, at a local café table, a camcorder perched on the chair opposite him. He wears a Christmas jumper, something wonderfully incongruous given the subject matter discussed. Background music plays, but, otherwise, there is silence, the audience shifting uneasily on their seats as they survey the scene. And then, abruptly, the camcorder switches on and we stare into the projected gaze of the actor. This is a monologue that toys with ideas of observation and audience, a sense of constant surveillance: we, the watcher, are always being watched right back. The man is ostensibly addressing a fellow shopper, but that sense of another character present in the scene often fades into the background, caught up as we are in the vulnerability of being seen. McCall oscillates between friendly ramble and extreme distress: we watch him, warily, trying to gauge if this man is a threat until the real threat – the flower in his mouth – is revealed. ‘I’m always clutching at other people’s lives’ he tells us, ‘to the lives of strangers where my mind can wander freely’, and from the moment his eyes meet ours through the projection, we feel as if we’re in his clutches. Unwittingly, we perform the imaginative leaps he describes to us, but, as his desperation becomes increasingly apparent, it seems like the least we can do.
An Arab Woman Speaks – by Dario Fo and Franca Rame
This monologue is a historical one, translated into English from the testimony of an Arab woman from her 1970s Lebanese refugee camps. The information is projected onto the back wall, and Sahar Assaf sits silent, her back to us, whilst we read the information. She is dressed in combats, and, despite the early information about her teenage marriage and subsequent escape, this is a monologue that focuses mainly on the struggles of the Arab communist movement, particularly the role played by women. It is a story of immense strength, and Assaf does it justice – by turns feisty, funny and heartbroken. During the body of the production, her figure is tracked by multiple camcorders, projected on the back wall, her faded, overlapping duplicates moving in ghostlike synchronicity behind her. As her personal struggle broadens to a national one, a show of solidarity between Arab women, the images come to stand for those women, their stories found in hers..
Metamorphosis – by Kafka, adapted by Gareth Jandrell
Kafka’s iconic monologue is here reduced to its simplest, most primal form: existential crisis writ large in Tom Radford excruciatingly physical performance. The unravelling of the language physically intrudes into his performance, words twisting away from him, metamorphosing along with his body. Radford feels possessed, bestial instincts breaking through his loquacious sensibility. There are moments of humor in the absurdity, but they are largely overruled by the strength of blank’s obvious anguish, something that is increasingly distressing to see as the play wears on. The outside voices are given in cold, almost crackling tones through an adjacent speaker, and from the moment we hear them, any hope of his salvation disappears. The stage is chaotic, dimly lit and increasingly cavernous in the face of blanks convoluted body. As he contorts, our ideas of what it means to be human contort with him, expanding even as he shrinks,.
Faust – by Goethe, adapted by Gareth Jandrell
Christopher Hughes’ Mephistopheles is a tour de force, an incredible piece of acting that feels utterly organic. Hughes is responsive to the audience to the extent that some scripted moments feel like improvisation. He is conversational, flamboyant, manic, a drug-fueled study in desperation. Smoke hangs, hazy, the kind of creation of hell that should feel cliched but feels only right in the face of the flamboyant, besuited Mephistopheles. Even at his most suave, his most convincing, there is an unhinged edge, something troubling beneath it all. Hughes’ command of the fast-paced language is impressive – Mephistopheles has all the linguistic command of Milton’s devil with a twisted 21st century edge. He adopts the voices of the other characters convincingly, shifting between Margaret, Faust and himself with remarkable alacrity, and often to moving effect. We watch him crumble before our eyes, and never is Hughes more utterly present on stage than in the complete destitution of abandonment.