The abstract minimalism of the set design that we are met with on entering The Hen and Chickens Theatre, lays the tone for this absurdist production of Tom Stoppard’s If You’re Glad, I’ll Be Frank, from the Theatre of Heaven and Hell. Frank, played by Nicholas Bright, is convinced his wife Gladys (Sarah Day-Smith) is the speaking clock and, naturally, no one he tells believes him, and this sends him on a determined mission to find her.
With the subject of time being at the forefront of this piece, timing in the company’s actions is also key. Under the direction of Michael Ward, the ensemble falls together to perform perfectly timed movements, and through the use of props, create characters and locations at the drop of a hat. A favourite moment of mine was the creation of the inner workings of a clock using umbrellas, stools and the actors themselves. Day-Smith stands out as the leader of this production, her articulate and well thought-out direct addresses driving the story onwards. That being said, it appears that some of the other actors do not have the same grasp of the text itself, which at moments becomes apparent as it lends their performances to unconsidered portrayals of these characters, and even though they are smaller roles, they also deserve the same research process as the main characters.
Angela Loucaides’ design of the backdrop has a Dali-esque feel to it, as it comprises of a painted telephone box, clock and a rotary dial phone which are all melting down on one side. The clever use of a door which is mounted on wheels makes for quick scene and location changes, lifting the pace of the piece and working around the lack of set. The props also aid with this, however due to such speed in which they are needed to be utilised, there are moments where we can see that the actors are caught out and fumbling with whatever it is they need. This can be used as a positive however, as there happened to be an unexpected comedic moment, when Brian Eastty, who plays the Porter, just couldn’t manage with his moustache, a fact which he ends up playing on.
Anyone who is familiar with Tom Stoppard’s writing will know that it is hilarious, with an underlying existential current, however this version of such complex ideas feels simplified, which ultimately lets it down.
If You’re Glad, I’ll Be Frank played The Hen and Chicken Theatre until 14th October 2017. For more information and tickets, see www.theatreofheavenandhell.com.