I can imagine watching 64 Squares during the later years of high school and being very envious of what I was seeing on stage. Even with two feet firmly placed in my 20s, I am in awe of the amount that this small theatre ensemble could accomplish on stage and their willingness to bundle so much into the brief performance. I was thrust back to how my 17-year old self would perceive the show for numerous reasons. Firstly, the energy and playfulness that the team exude onstage is a rarity not often seen past adolescence. When combined with more philosophical motivations, as considered by Rhum and Clay Theatre Company, then the combination is winning.
Set on-board a luxurious cruise line in the late 1930s, 64 Squares tell the story of the world’s greatest chess champion coming up against our narrator, B. B is split into four distinct bodies as he tells the audiences of his life through a series of recalled memories. Given the inconsistency of memory it is fitting that scenes are repeated and changed in an effort to decode his own memories.
One can imagine the intense rehearsal period of this production; there is barely a rock left unturned when it comes to theatrical devices utilised: voice-over, shadow puppetry, slapstick, acrobatics, dance – the list is endless. 64 Squares is a dynamic, humorous and astute piece of theatre.
Another component of my 17-year-old self viewing habits was the ability to watch a show far less critically. To be sure, the performance was far from seamless and there were a few occasions where one of the actors steamrolled on top of another’s lines. Yet, this did little to hinder my enjoyment of the show.
The actors’ ability to pick up and dispense of caricatures at their whim is impressive. Charlotte Dubery has a vast array of eccentric facial expressions, which provoked outbursts of laughter from the audience. She delicately navigated her way around the stage, utilising her previous dance training for the role. Her movements meant that the physicality of the piece could be elevated to another level. She has an impressive physical presence on stage. Likewise her male companions, Julian Spooner and Mathew Wells, were a visual joy despite the occasional drop in timing. The rigorous pace of the piece combined with the abundance of techniques meant that the actors were vulnerable to making mistakes.
The trio’s escapades were enlivened by the presence of a live jazz musician, Fred McLaren, who accompanied the energetic thrusts and playful frozen moments on stage with suitable purring and rolling beats. In accordance to this, the set design was also an important player in helping achieve the playground-like theatrical arena. The basic set was continually transformed revealing it’s miscellaneous purposes; the cast were able to create sails out of white fabric to illustrate the ship, or, in a montage that felt akin to the playful realisations of Wes Anderson, the group sat behind the white sheet and depicted the inner workings of the vessel through shadows.
Rhum and Clay distinguishes itself as a company willing to take risks and proves it is a bold theatre maker; however, it is currently lacking the sophisticated execution to really push the company forward. Neither slick nor polished, 64 Squares is a delightful web of techniques that entertain rather than impact.
64 Squares is at New Diorama Theatre until 27 September. For tickets and further information see the New Diorama Theatre website.