PHOEBE LUCKHURST finds another May Week show which, despite strong performances, struggles with its setting.
Gonville and Caius College, 21st-23rd June, 2pm, Free
Directed by Polly Checkland Harding and Stephanie Aspin
And Then There Were None was defeated by its outdoor staging. The play is a murder mystery, set in a house on an island. One by one the disparate house guests die. This is a typical narrative, it is part of a literary convention; this by no means need undermine the play.
What did undermine the play was the open, tranquil setting of a Caius court, the acoustics peppered intermittently by the crows of tourists from Senate Passage.
In order to believe in the action, the tension, the increasing suspicions, the conflicts that descend into Golding-esque warfare, Lord of the Flies matured, the house must be a febrile centre, a claustrophobic prison.
We must believe that the news that a boat will not arrive to take them off the island evinces unadulterated terror in our motley gang of guests. We need to believe that behind the stage there are dark passages where the suit of armour that kills Blore (George Greenbury) leers from a dank corner. Choosing to perform the play outside in a Cambridge court seems a bizarre directorial decision. It undermined the premise irrecoverably.
There were some confident performances. Oskar McCarthy’s was the stand-out, playing the role of the slightly effete adventurer Lombard with measured assertion. Greenbury’s Blore and Jack Mosedale’s Marstom provided the exaggerated – although by no means less sophisticated – comedy, while Kesia Guillery (Emily Brent) was the more subtle turn, evincing laughs using her beady twitch and intonation.
The others were rather more forgettable; amidst the aforementioned incongruous backdrop much of the action seemed to slip away altogether. Again, I must blame the staging: dramatic tension was never really achieved.
The costumes were impressive and gestured towards character: for example, Jessica O’Driscoll Breen, playing the young, desirable secretary, Vera, was dressed in a series of fitted dresses of which her more dour companion, Emily Brent, disapproved vocally. Her outfits emphasised her youth, naivete and strength of character; this was compounded by her defense of her outfit against the unflinching wall of Miss Brent. There were elements of depth to the production but it still felt patchy overall.
The persistent, defining motif was that of the ten little soldiers who were suspended on the wall. Every time a character dies – or is about to – one of the soldiers fell from the wall. Or so I am led to believe, since I couldn’t actually see the soldiers very well. Although I will concede that I chose my seat, I am vindicated by the fact that rather a large portion of the crowd were also sitting where I was and therefore must also have found that an actual demonstration of this defining motif eluded them, too. Again, such a problem might have been anticipated and the soldiers housed on a different wall that was visible from many more angles.
This particular performance capitalised on certain strong individuals and elements of stylish design, whilst failing to perform its most simple, basic duty of creating a world in which the audience could believe. Ultimately, I felt a little disappointed; it was a lacklustre conception of a play that could so easily have gone right.