Why, The Actor’s Nightmare asks, do patrons of the theatre leave their homes to see a show? It’s a pertinent question to ask a London audience, or indeed an audience in any metropolitan area where there are so many things that people could do in their spare time. Whether the question is fully answered during the performance is up to one’s interpretation. Personally, I think there are as many answers as there are theatregoers, though inevitably there is going to be some commonality somewhere along the way.
Although entertaining, there is very little that the show offers that is insightful or enlightening, drawing on people’s previous theatrical experiences and almost parodying certain plays. Without having a working knowledge of, say, Hamlet, Waiting For Godot or A Streetcar Named Desire, some of the humour may be difficult to work out – and even those of us who are familiar with such good theatrical works may not necessarily be amused. Not that anything was offensive or inappropriate, but merely unfunny.
Sometimes, however, this appears to be quite deliberate, particularly in the case of Cindy (Meaghan Martin), who delivers the strangest of stand-up comedy sets in which she repeatedly asks for the ‘laugh track’ (a few seconds of canned laughter) whilst telling an increasingly concerning story about her low self-esteem. Elsewhere, Stanley (Adrian Richards) yells for ‘Stella’ loudly and repeatedly, much to the audience’s amusement, mostly (it seemed to me) because she doesn’t appear, leaving Blanche DuBois (Layo-Christina Akinlude) to cover her ears so as not to suffer the discomfort of perforated eardrums.
Despite being one of those ninety-minute interval-free briskly paced productions, it takes a while before any sort of ‘actor’s nightmare’ takes place, ostensibly because of the nature of the show, tying together half a dozen short plays and rolling them into one. It works inasmuch as it builds up to a big finish, and introduces the audience to a number of roles in the theatre industry. Chris (also Richards), an up and coming playwright, has a catch-up with his agent Margaret (also Akinlude) in a scene that, again, tells us what we already know – in this case (non-spoiler alert), there isn’t necessarily enough money to be made solely from one’s theatre work to cover one’s costs of living.
The section that worked best for me was a reworking of Medea, the ancient Greek tragedy play, with plenty of references to other works, some subtler than others, and a couple not subtle at all. The movements (Martin and Richards) capture the mood of each scene very well. George Spelvin (Stefan Menaul) eventually goes into meltdown when the ‘nightmare’ is finally realised, and his gradual decline results in a victory of sorts. It is never a good thing when an actor ‘dries up’ – but it is quite another when Spelvin thinks, rightly or wrongly, that he belongs to another profession altogether, and it becomes difficult to separate the actor from the actor’s characters.
Interestingly, it is only when Spelvin is left to his own devices that he seems to perk up somewhat, without the pressure of prompters, stage management and other actors, all of whom have disappeared by the very final section. In a nutshell, there is chaos, and there is therefore hilarity.
Sarah Siddons (also Martin) tries to prompt George, unsuccessfully, and there’s a nod to that very real nightmare some actors have apparently genuinely had when one is on a stage in their underwear without having a clue what to say.
Overall, the play is amusing in parts but also tends to be laborious, hammering home a point already made. There’s something whimsical about this production, so its humour doesn’t have as wide an appeal as possible. But The Actor’s Nightmare is a decent reminder that it takes many people, not just the actors on stage, to make a production work.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Camp Rock star Meaghan Martin is set to make her professional stage debut in Tony Award-winning playwright Christopher Durang’s dark comedy The Actor’s Nightmare. The piece, especially curated from a selection of Durang’s shorts by 3 hearts canvas into a cohesive, stand-alone piece, explores different areas of the entertainment industry through biting satire and surreal comedy, portrayed by an ensemble multi-rolling cast. The production runs from 16th July – 10th August 2019 at Park Theatre.
The Actor’s Nightmare offers snapshots of the eccentric and absurd, as audiences are offered an insight into the madness of the entertainment industry and all the things that those involved in it love to hate. From Tennessee Williams to Euripides, tossing in a bit of Beckett, no renowned playwright is safe. Classic plays are warped and distorted, with an outcome that is both shocking and hilarious. The World Premiere of this curated piece includes the UK Premiere of some of Durang’s finest works including Mrs Sorken and Desire, Desire, Desire.
The Actor’s Nightmare
Park90, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park, N4 3JP
Dates: 16 July – 10 Aug 2019
Press night: Friday 19 July, 19.00
Age guidance: 12+