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Circle Mirror Transformation

by on 20 October 2021

When Are We Going to Learn About Acting?

Circle Mirror Transformation

by Annie Baker

OHADS at the Jane Ross Theatre, Hampton until 23rd October  

Review by Celia Bard

Whether or not you are familiar with creative drama classes and their improvisation exercises, “silly” games and acting techniques, this is a play that will delight all who value subtle performances in which frozen smiles and long pauses will keep you spell-bound. 

The play’s setting is in a small town in New England and the location is a community centre for a six-week drama class for adults.  The people who sign up for the class are Schulz, recently divorced; Lauren, an enthusiastic high school junior who wants to become an actress; Teresa, a former actress, emotional and theatrical; James, Marty’s husband and Marty, the drama teacher who leads the class, taking the students through a series of acting and drama exercise in which they reveal much about their lives. 

The actual set is realistic.  An enormous mirror dominates the back wall of the set, which in many ways acts as a metaphor for the distinction between reality and fiction.  Through the mirror the audience sees a reflection of themselves observing the actors, but at the same time it reflects what is happening in the lives of the actors whilst engaged in play-acting and how this may be seen as transforming their lives.   The mirror reflects both real life and the imaginings of a group of actors.

Two important props are the large, bouncy rubber ball and the flip chart.  Whoever sits on the ball, much of the time Marty, holds control of the class and attention is fixed on that person.  The flip chart has six pages, one for each week of the course.  Each page schedules the outline of the class.  This is a useful device as it gives structure to each weekly class and engenders a feeling of movement and of time passing.  Complementing this concept is the imaginative use of lighting, which helps differentiate time sequences by dimming the lights between sub-scenes but using black out to indicate the end of a main scene.

Despite the long silences between people as they get to know each other, the scenes are never boring, and this due to Harry Medawar’s clever and imaginative direction.  He is not afraid of long pauses, these help maintain moments of tension.  The shape of the circle enables Medawar to move his actors around like chess pieces, thus indicating a shift in relationships.  The actors’ movement is never stilted, and this is down to his outstanding cast of five actors who having internalised the moves make everything appear naturalistic, but the audience know that a change in seating positions reflect a dynamic shift in interactive relationships between the characters.

The cast is superb.  Lauren, played by Ruby Skinner, portrays an enthusiastic student, keen to learn as much as she can about acting.   She is disappointed with the class as the role-playing exercises to her don’t seem much like acting.  On challenging Marty about this, she receives the response: “What do you think acting is?”  This, of course, raises a whole series of questions about real life and drama and the dissimilar roles that people play throughout their lives.  Throughout the play this young actor stays firmly fixed in the action.  Likewise Scott Tilley gives an excellent performance as the highly vulnerable Schultz, unable to resist the lures of Theresa.  The audience feel for him when he has to leave the circle.  Rejection plays a big part in his life and Tilley projects this well.  James, played by Nigel Cole comes across as something of an enigma.  Of all the characters, he is the one that reveals least of himself.  He comes across as something of a loner.  His delight in succeeding in swinging the hoop around his hips is infectious and this is one of the few occasions when he reveals a more childish aspect to his personality.  That Cole is able to portray various aspects of character displays his excellent acting talent.   Similarly, Mia Skytte who plays Theresa demonstrates a wide range of emotions in her performance.  Mia is a wonderful physical actor.  In this role her portrayal ranges from the coquettish charms of a young ingénue to the seductive whims of a femme fatale.  Although when roused Mia’s voice is powerful and has excellent quality, in her more thoughtful moments her voices tends to fade.  This is a pity as every utterance in this play needs to be heard by the audience.  Jane Marcus as Marty is just superb.  Every gesture, every facial expression, every vocal utterance is meaningful.  This actress knows how to hold an audience.  As well as maintaining control of her class of students, she succeeds in holding audience attention in the palm of her hand. 

On leaving the theatre I overhead a member of the audience saying how much they enjoyed the production, but wondered about the play’s resolution.  Thinking about it I would say that the resolution rests in the counting sequences.  In the first few scenes the characters whilst lying in prone positions rarely succeed in reaching beyond three before two characters overlap in shouting out a number, not so in the final scene when they succeed in counting up to ten.  Now so in tune with each other they emotionally sense when one of them is about to call out a number.  At the beginning of the play the characters consist of a group of disparate people.  At the play’s conclusion they are working together as a whole, willing to think about the future.

The bottom line is that this is a superbly crafted play, directed by a talented director and performed by a group of gifted and sensitive actors.  I left the theatre wanting to know more about the characters and how their lives would move on now that the class had ended.  An indication of high quality drama?

Celia Bard, October 2021

Photography by Raddison Photography

From → Drama, OHADS

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