Six Characters in Search of an Author

Luigi Pirandello, in a new version by Rupert Goold and Ben Power
Headlong Theatre in co-production with Bristol Old Vic
A Chichester Festival Theatre production. Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, and Touring

Production photo

Having seen Goold’s very impressive and exciting version of this play at Chichester (in the small Minerva theatre with thrust stage) I was interested to discover how it would translate to a larger theatre with proscenium and was thrilled to find that the powerful and eerie elements are just as thrillingly eerie and powerful. Even though I was aware of what was about to happen it still sent cold shivers of shock through the system. The only piece which was missing - and one which would be difficult to present in a touring production - was the scene showing the television producer caught between reality and another dimension with a dying child in her arms and, desperate to find a way out, ventured by courtesy of video technology onto the stage of the nearby Festival Theatre where, with the Music Man in full swing, she was unseen and ignored. Strangely this gave a sinister and unearthly impression of a parallel world and had she slipped into it or had we?

Comparisons aside, this is an unusual slant on Pirandello’s play and perhaps one of which he would have approved as he himself had thoughts of a filmic version. Beginning in the ‘real‘ world where a TV crew are in the process of making a documentary on assisted suicide, it soon slips into the surreal when the six characters appear determined to not only tell their melodramatic and tragic story but to act it out in front of us and the incredulous TV crew.

The Producer - an intensely focused Catherine McCormack - defends the ethics of euthanasia. “Life is more spiteful than death”. “It’s about taking control” - an unfortunate comment as control is the very thing she loses.

Performances, despite the melodrama, are dramatically convincing with particular mention for Gina Bramhill who (having graduated from RADA only this summer) is making her stage debut and very plausibly and compellingly tells her tale of the StepDaughter, easily switching ‘time’ from her abused little girl period to the resentful present with revenge high on her agenda. As The Father Jack Shepherd shows grief, desperate shame and an explosive anger as the tale continues on its unrelenting journey to tragedy - but we haven’t finished there. There is yet another ending even more poignant and surreal as the Producer who has given her whole life to the medium of documentary drama finds her losing it to the same medium.

Sound effect, music and lighting ( Adam Cork and Malcolm Rippeth) play a vital part in setting the mood, with Lorna Heavey’s video projections adding to the feeling of unreality, and as The Mother Hazel Holder’s powerful operatic voice soars, thrills and shocks in turn, commanding attention and, almost as a sideline and adding to the drama - a young girl drowns in a fish tank.

An interesting touch is a scene with Pirandello trying to find an ending to his tale. “Finding an end is one of life’s deep conundrums” - I believe this company have found it.

Touring to Cambridge, Plymouth, Malvern and Cardiff

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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