The students of The Acting Gymnasium are presenting their newest production at the Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington. For its 100-year anniversary, Luigi Pirandello’s classic Six Characters in Search of an Author is reimagined and adapted by Gavin McAlinden.
The Acting Gymnasium’s performance of Six Characters in Search of an Author is a play inside a play inside a play. A group of actors find themselves in a studio rehearsing Pirandello’s new play. They have learned their lines, they have warmed up, and they are ready to dive into the material. In come a family of six who look they belong to another era. They are eager to share the story of their lives with the crowd. After a bit of huffing and puffing, the director, portrayed by Emma Wilkinson-Wright, agrees to hear them out and let them play out the unnerving events of their past.
With a cast of fifteen, the Acting Gymnasium is aiming high as they try to fill Pirandelli’s outdated story with quirky characters and original acting choices. The actors are dressed colourfully, each bringing their own character interpretation to the stage and searching for the spotlight within the black box theatre. The stage is fitted with a table, a chaise lounge, a mirror, a clothing rack and of course the essential rehearsal chairs – everything you need to feel like you are invited into an actual rehearsal space. Mobile phones, make-up utensils, and script printouts communicate to us that this is not another classic play performed by a group of Thespians who intend to play by the book. It is a modernistic interpretation of an old play.
With contagious energy and eagerness, Wilkinson-Wright directs her actors up to the point when six ominous characters enter the stage looking for an author. As the stage fills up, it begins to look more and more like a patchwork piece of art, as centuries and costume clash, and is overtaken by several actors who have come here with the intent to contribute greatly to the play. The Lead Actor (Aldo King), the Stepdaughter (Lillie Prowse), and Wilkinson-Wright quickly become the life of the party as they overshadow the actors lingering in the background waiting for their moment in the 75-minute-long performance. Their spirited and riveting portrayals are holding the performance together. Refreshingly snappy they deliver quite a good performance amidst the Father’s (Gabriel Puscas) tedious monologues.
Having three actors drive the show makes for an interesting watch. I cannot help but ogle them for most of the show as they keep the upper hand and make the space theirs. Sadly, that leaves twelve actors sparsely contributing to the piece with exaggerated facial expression and the occasional one-liner. But King’s, Prowse’s, and Wilkinson-Wright’s performances are not the only thing that is holding my attention. Six Characters in Search of an Author is supported by fascinating camera recordings of the actors mid-rehearsal (created by Paul Donneloin) that are projected onto the screen behind them.
Acting Gymnasium’s reimagination of Six Characters in Search of an Author is a great concept followed through with not enough appreciation of what is at their disposal: actors eager to perform more than two lines, a lovingly designed stage, a modern twist on a good story, and beautiful video projection. But as is, I can only say that some things are best left in the past.
Six Characters in Search of an Author is playing at the Tower Theatre until 12 June 2021. For more information and tickets visit The Tower Theatre online.