Next time you see a newspaper, have a read through the major story and try to imagine the central character involved. What do they look like? How are they dressed? What’s their demeanor? Once you’ve done that, then Google the person and see how their reality fits in with your imagination. There is a reason for mentioning all of this as, once you have done this exercise you will immediately be able to to identify with one of the main protagonists in Naked at the Brockley Jack Theatre.
It is the late seventies and novelist Lewis Nota (Declan Cooke) has returned to his rooms in Mrs Hood’s (Jean Apps) bed and breakfast with a new friend. Whilst Mrs Hood is initially disapproving, she comes round when she realises that Mr Nota’s guest is the notorious Ersilia Drei (Josephine Rattigan) a nanny who had recently tried to commit suicide following not only the tragic death of her charge, the young daughter of the British Consul – Mr Grant (Sam Adamson) – but also the ending of her engagement to Naval Lieutenant Frank Last (Piers Hunt).
Ersilia’s story has become well-known thanks to the piece written by journalist Francesca Cantavalle (Victoria Hamnett). Nota had brought Ersilia home with him not only to protect her from the public gaze but also because, in his mind and based on what he had read, he has fallen in love with her. Ersilia’s reasons for going home with Nota are more complex but she believes he is a very famous author and could put her in his next novel. Others have plans for Esilia as well. Frank Last wants to marry her again, Francesca wants to write more about her and Grant has his own reasons for ensuring he has control over Ersilia. Ultimately, to quote the vernacular, everyone wants a piece of her and somehow Ersilia must decide where she wants the next stage of her life to go.
Sometimes a review is really easy to write but for some reason reviewing Naked has been really difficult and I’m not sure why. The story by Luigi Pirandello, freely adapted by Howard Colyer, is not that complex on the surface and yet, there are many nuances underneath that make it more complicated than it first appears. Now, I’m going to show off a bit and say that I realised what the ending would be quite early on in the performance, but this was not because it was obvious but because as I was watching, it suddenly struck me that there was only one way that I would have wanted it to end.
Set Designer Sarah June Mills has made great use of the Brockley Jack’s highly flexible space to put Nota’s entrance and living room in it, with its sparse furnishings – a single chair and a pile of books and papers in the corner – and a wide open window overlooking the street below. It feels right for Nota to live here in this place under the watchful eye of his landlady – a great performance by Jean Apps who gives Mrs Hood the right amount of comedic appearance covering a sympathetic interior to make her very believable throughout. Likewise, Josephine Rattigan delivers a lovely performance as Ersilia, vulnerable yet determined, a shrinking violet who sees a potential new future for herself and Nota if only the current situation can be resolved. The rest of the cast worked well together and under the direction of Robert Zurich brought their characters to life in a really good way.
Naked is a strange play in some respects. Even now, two days later, various parts of it keep coming back to me and lead me to have a quick read of the play text to check what I am remembering. It’s not often a play gets under my skin like this but when it does that is usually a really positive sign of a good show.
Review by Terry Eastham
by Luigi Pirandello
adapted by Howard Colyer
presented by Ballast Theatre
directed by Roberta Zuric
A young woman attempts suicide – but she’s found before the poison can kill her. A journalist becomes interested in her life, then a novelist – stories circulate, more people are drawn in, and even the Foreign Office tries to intervene. An adaptation of Pirandello’s play set in London in the winter of 1979-80.
“The one you imagined,
before you met me.
The girl in the novel.
I’ll be here as her.
Someone significant –for once in my life.
I’ll die and be her.”
Ersilia Drei (played by Josephine Rattigan)
Lewis Nota (played by Declan Cooke)
Mrs Hood (played by Jean Apps)
Francesca Cantavalle (played by Victoria Hamnett)
Frank Last (played by Piers Hunt); and
Mr Grant Bordeaux (played by Sam Adamson)
12th – 30th January 2016