Absolutely! {perhaps}

Luigi Pirandello, in a new version by Martin Sherman
Wyndham's Theatre
(2003)

This is a week for big name stars in London. If you have never heard of Matthew (Friends) Perry or Tamzin (Eastenders) Outhwaite and Sexual Perversity and Flesh Wounds scare you, Absolutely! {perhaps} will probably appeal.

This production has a great deal going for it. It is directed and designed by legendary Italian film (and theatre) director Franco Zeffirelli, and amongst an incredibly strong cast, Lady Olivier (Joan Plowright) is a shining light. To assist, the play is intriguing and the expensive staging stunning. Add in a great performance from Oliver Ford Davies and the recipe for success is almost complete.

Absolutely! {perhaps} (last performed here as Right You Are, if You Think So) is a play that has much in common with Pirandello's more famous Six Characters in Search of an Author and it surely influenced Priestley, in particular for An Inspector Calls. It looks at the nature of truth and has a contemporary edge, as it debates the public's right to pry into the affairs of those struck by tragedy.

Life in a small town can be very insular and when a new clerk (Darrell D'Silva) arrives with an invisible wife (Hilary Tones); and his mother-in-law (Miss Plowright) moves in next door to a councillor and his family, tongues wag to the point of exhaustion.

The councillor's family, Father (Barry Stanton), Mother (Liza Tarbuck) and Daughter (Siân Brooke) begin to speculate and soon they are joined by visitors, bickering husband (Gawn Grainger) and wife (Anna Carteret), their friend (Bríd Brennan). By the end of the play, the lugubriously weary old retainer (Timothy Bateson) has let in about half a dozen more.

With the exception of the detached writer uncle, Lamberto (Ford Davies) who openly laughs at them, they all maniacally try to solve a tragic mystery that boils down to whether the old lady or her son is mad. In many ways, this is like one of those complicated logic puzzles - Peter has no brothers and red shoes, while John has no teeth but seven sisters.......

The two potential mad people each make a case and it is perhaps no coincidence that twelve members of the public, paying only £10 each, sit on the stage observing from uncomfortably close quarters. As much an observer as these innocents is Lamberto, the writer representing the playwright himself, who coldly manipulates his family and their friends.

There are many twists and turns in the plot with sympathies jumping around as Pirandello and Sherman play games and pluck at heartstrings. While the comedy is light, the underlying post-modern philosophical debate is always fascinating and challenges the audience. The conclusion to this meditation on the nature of objective truth is wholly fitting and the final image of the Three Graces nicely rounds off the evening.

With such a strong cast, it was inevitable that the stylised acting that the play requires would be good with Ford Davies, D'Silva and Mesdames Plowright and Carteret all particularly impressive.

They are almost outshone by the visual effects created by Zeffirelli. The set is backed by boldly-coloured mosaics and mirrors deliberately designed to look like the mazes that the characters metaphorically tread. These are illuminated by a bank of multi-coloured lights controlled by Andrew Bridge.

The costumes for both men and women, designed by Raimonda Gaetan, are bright to say the least and in many cases look as if they have only recently left the catwalks of her native Italy.

Forget the soap stars, all in all, with its glittering line-up and satisfyingly enigmatic plot, this is a night to savour.

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version

Philip Fisher