‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’ springs to mind when thinking about Ciaran Myers new play The Adding. The ‘giant’ in question is American expressionist Elmer Rice who penned The Adding Machine in 1923, in reaction to the replacement of humans with machines. Although Myers does not ‘see further’ so to speak, it is fair to say he uses Rice’s expressionistic building blocks to shift away from a focus on the frightening advancement of the technological age to examine instead sex, finance and gender politics.
Positioned in the centre of a black stage, the anonymous Kate Hanford and David Maine sit in a state of post-coital awkwardness. This quickly shifts to Hanford interviewing with Maine for a position in whatever nameless bureaucratic institution his character works for. Jokes and threats of embezzlement and pregnancy ensue; the interview comes to a close. Maine continues with life as usual; Hanford quickly falls into a state of destitution. She loses her job at Costa and approaches a brothel in order to provide for the baby who had been merely an insubstantial bargaining tool a scene earlier.
Having miscarried, Hanford’s character is brought lower. Maine offers her a job, created by his embezzled money. Eventually, through blackmail and manipulation Hanford usurps the blustering Maine to take his position. In a state of desperation, Maine murders Hanford and himself, at which point the pair are transported by the puppet-ghost of their miscarried child to the Elysium fields. Here, they are doomed for eternity to re-examine how they have wronged one another in the hope of achieving forgiveness.
It was as bizarre to watch as it sounds. Hanford and Maine worked well together; however, Maine’s acting, like her character, was the stronger of the two: mastering emotional integrity and vocal clarity whilst also being genuinely funny.
Although visually there was the occasional effective moment (especially Stella Cheung’s lighting design), unfortunately the production was let down by Catherine Fowles’ direction. The first red flag was the excruciatingly long period of darkness at the outset, which did not necessarily carry any dramatic value; instead it felt as if one of the cast was simply running late and they were playing for time…
Furthermore, Madeline Hunter’s concept of a monochrome set with splashes of colour to represent moods and emotions did not carry the desired impact, and the items scattered around made the stage look cluttered. Most irritatingly was the occasional crackle of a walkie-talkie just offstage which more often than not interrupted and masked important dialogue and silences. I assume these interruptions is part of what the company Backstage Forward prides itself on: an ethos of revealing the hidden backstage world behind the curtain. However, perhaps they should make sure this is actually artistically effective in future.
The performance was accompanied by Tom Rackham’s musical score; frankly it may have been more fitting in a computer game than a theatre but at points it did help in creating a truly eerie quality surrounding Clotilde de Verteuil’s puppet – a haunting old woman representing Hanford and Maine’s miscarried child. The puppet as a piece of artistic experimentation does not go unappreciated: in fact, it made the production as a whole stand out. Jessica Dives’ childlike voice contrasted starkly with the emaciated and decrepit frame of the Old Woman. The puppet was ever-present at the side of the stage and voiced a cyclical narrative – nonsensical at the start, revelatory at the end.
Overall, Myers script was thought provoking and adventurous, but the extent to which this can be credited to him or to Rice is up for debate. The Adding is brimming with potential which was sadly not realised due to wanting direction.
The Adding is playing The Cockpit until 24 September. For more information and tickets, see The Cockpit website.