Written by Alison Collins
Pictures by Alex Carter
The Actor’s Nightmare, originally written by Christopher Durang and directed by Amy Daniels, portrays exactly what it promises: the nightmare that everyone who has ever performed has faced at one time or another. You’re on stage, and you haven’t got a clue what you’re doing, what you should be saying, or in the case of George Spelvin (Jack Devonshire), why you’re even there in the first place.
Spelvin – in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity – valiantly claws his way through the performances he is required to take part in, misidentified as an understudy. Noël Coward’s Private Lives, an amalgamation of Beckett plays, Hamlet and A Man for All Seasons are all shown as you’ve never seen them before. Hilarity ensues.
Freddie Bullough shines as Ellen Terry, particularly during the mixture of Beckett plays. You get a real sense, as an audience member, of the fun this company has had in creating such an enjoyable performance piece. The relationship between cast members is as clear and entertaining as the character interaction.
The play itself relies fairly heavily on the audience’s assumed knowledge of classic plays. I personally was most familiar with Hamlet, with Spelvin taking the lead role, and Henry Irving (Spike Elwood) as a charming Horatio. I found this section of the play the most humorous of all, as the word play Shakespeare is so famous for was executed perfectly, with brilliant timing. That being said, the fact that some other scenes didn’t hit as well with me is admittedly due to my “beginners” knowledge of classic plays, and not at all down to the performances of the cast, which were all of an extremely high standard. Especially impressive are appearances by Amy Daniels, who – as well as directing this comedy – takes on the role of the director, Meg. One can only hope that her direction was kinder than Meg’s.
It must be said, at times, the viewing is uncomfortable, but don’t misinterpret me here: this is in fact a very good thing. The audience squirms occasionally, watching the elegant and poised Sarah Siddons (Georgia Grace) desperately prompting clueless Spelvin, without much success. We sympathise with poor George. I’m sure we have all had the dream of being on stage, speechless, in our underwear (this really is the case for the brave Jack Devonshire at one point). This discomfort is a palpable reminder of what it is to be in The Actor’s Nightmare.
Backed with a minimalist but effective set, this adaptation allows its actors to shine, unencumbered by complicated set changes, distracting lighting or overly ambitious soundscapes. In short, this play was a pleasure to watch, and should certainly not be the basis for any nightmares.