Monday, February 27, 2017

Four actors, four chairs and the willing suspension of disbelief

Image from Samuel French

The flamboyant Noel Coward (1899-1973), using what Time called his "cheek and chic, pose and poise," penned fifty plays and another dozen works of musical theatre. Along with many other fans, I have often laughed at the zany antics and clever dialogue of  his characters.

Yesterday, at the Surrey Naked Stage production Noel Coward in Two Keys, I saw him in a new light. The first play was standard comic fare. Then came A Song at Twilight. Serious and dramatic, Coward's final play brought the audience to its feet in a storm of applause.

The readings were done by four actors on four chairs. Except in pairs when speaking, they kept their backs to the audience. Conveying the story through facial expression and voice, they used no props and never rose from their chairs.

It's amazing how the human mind is primed for narrative. The most minimal cues of voice and words are all we need to enter the rich world of story. Feeling with the actors, we can laugh and cry, shake our heads and sigh.

I was twelve when a troupe of travelling Shakespearean players came to our town. Wearing black tights and leotards, they set up a handful of black-painted plywood boxes as a stage. As I recall, a silver paper crown was their only prop. That day as I watched them perform, my lifelong passion for watching live theatre was born.

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