Wednesday, 10 September 2008
Went to the Gielgud this evening for the opening preview of Headlong's reworked production Six Characters in Search of an Author, orginally authored by Pirandello. My friend Vix has been working as a creative associate on the lighting for the show and she kindly got me a ticket.
The play itself is so self-referential about the concept of theatricality that I always fear it risks eating itself within it's own logical framework. This new interpretation seems to embrace that very confusion but also makes a bold attempt to push through to something more meaningful on the other side. However, this is such a layered production, refracting so many shafts of light and colour, that it's impossible to catch all but a handful of the ideas offered up.
The updated conceit is to change the original 'play within a play' convention to a 'play within the making of a drama documentary' specifically here on the fictional euthanasia case of Alex, a fourteen year old boy who has gone to the Dignitas clinic in Denmark to die. The idea works rather well and brings to this production a very modern debate about the limits of both existance and reality in a mediated culture. Euthanasia quickly become a subtle metaphor for the loss of control we experience when we hand over the story of our lives to others. The first act neatly transposes Pirandello's original text into this sanitised setting.
The formality anarchically disintegrates in the second act, however, as the documentary maker, traumatised by 'telling the story' of the initial assisted death, starts her own breakdown, unpicking the reasons behind her inability to tell her own story and her need to project narrative onto others. Her moral collapse is vividly dramatised in a series of barely associated scenes involving live action, reconstructed action and pre-recorded film. Time is elastic as Pirandello takes the stage looking for an end to the play, Alex quotes 'To Be or Not to Be', on film, from beyond the grave, an actor appears playing the production's director, Rupert Goold, and eventually the documentary maker seeks death herself in a Danish clinic via the lethal injection administered by the very characters she'd failed to create a story for.
This is a huge, messy existential debate about authorship, need, control and power.
Precocious or brilliant? Probably a bit of both!