Six actors wait in a hotel lounge for the director of a film to call them back on set. They keep on waiting. This is the premise of Steven Berkoff’s new play 6 actors in search of a director, which Berkoff also directs, and which currently occupies Charing Cross Theatre.
The play is essentially the conversations between the waiting actors; for an actor to not be acting is to be kept in suspended animation. Berkoff states: “Actors need to act. That is their trade and their calling and when they become most alive.” As the play progresses, the characters’ collective need for expression builds and builds the longer they are kept waiting, and conversation evolves from small talk and gossip, to personal and emotional heights.
Berkoff’s observations are astute, and the whole thing seems pretty much a parody of the well-worn clichés and stigmas attached to actors and their craft. From what the actors discuss to the way they talk, 6 actors could only have been written by someone who has lived this life of limbo.
The characters happen to be actors, but their dilemma and frustrations transcend their profession. The play touches upon the desires that make being human so complex and so trying: the need to feel like one is doing something worthwhile, the longing for a guiding hand, the despair when life seems to stall, the desperation for a purpose. And then there is the metaphor inherent in six inert people sitting around waiting for intervention. Being directed gives one a purpose. So what do you do when there’s no one to direct you? What if a higher power remains forever absent?
The dialogue throughout is simple and ordinary, but occasionally lights up with phrases such as: “Humans are a chaos of flesh and appetites”. Berkoff’s writing can also be very funny at times, which is accentuated by the delivery and timing of the cast.
I feel that to point out any one actor over the others is to do a disservice to the ensemble because they worked well together, capturing the odd relationship that occurs between people who are neither friends nor enemies, who share nothing except their profession, but end up forced together for a long period of time with nothing to make except small talk.
For a play that had no dance or fights scenes, 6 actors is well choreographed; the actors remain fluid in the set, filled with two sofas, two chairs, two tables and back dropped with two large windows. They move around, swap seats, swarm to the windows and table en masse… The play never feels flat or drags despite being talky, and the stage never feels static but is a living, breathing environment.
This isn’t a world changing play. By Berkoff’s standards it isn’t even that good. Its metaphors are almost juvenile in their obviousness, it is seconds away from being too melodramatic to bear, and is perhaps too targeted to a specific audience. But it points out the importance of expression, of feeling; that there is no sense waiting for someone to tell you what to do. All there is is action. And that’s not a bad thing to be saying.
The play runs at Charing Cross Theatre until May 23. For more information and tickets, see the Charing Cross Theatre website.