Behind the Beyond
Stephen Leacock adapted by Brian Cano
There are perils to publicly reviewing plays when one has never studied drama. Had always assumed the term ‘problem play’ described the likes of Measure for Measure which were not funny enough to be comedies or sufficiently grim to be tragedies. Nope, such plays appeared in the 19th century allowing authors to explore their social consciences by exposing audiences to controversial social issues.
Behind the Beyond, adapted by Brian Cano from a satirical essay by Stephen Leacock, does not miss the central point of the satire: all involved—authors, actors and audiences—are from the upper class so inevitably the plays are set in a refined background among the elite and reflect their concerns. The irony being that such people needed to have their consciences pricked by watching a play because they were isolated from the ‘real’ world and never endured actual hardship.
While the play is going on, an analyst, in a suitably academic setting, provides a breathless running commentary describing theatregoers as if they are a lost tribe discovered in the Amazon rather than folks having a night out. Trivial events—lights going down, curtain rising—are explained as if they are arcane rituals.
The satire takes for granted that theatregoing is a refined, even snobbish experience and, therefore, the narration constantly remarks on the social class of the patrons and explains how the author must be sure those in the cheap seats appreciate his points ("Even the ushers must have understood that!"). What a neutral observer might regard as bad writing (clumsy visual clues setting up plot twists and the fact nothing actually happens in act three) will, the narrator explains, be recognised by clever theatregoers as ‘atmosphere’.
Behind the Beyond was filmed during lockdown with the cast isolated from, but interacting with, each other. This allows for sight gags with socially-isolated actors in the same scene passing each other props. Computer-generated backgrounds are added behind the actors and the performances are deliberately stiff. It makes for an artificial atmosphere which is perfect for the type of remote play that is being enacted.
Behind the Beyond is satirical and subversive rather than laugh out loud funny but is well worth a watch.
Reviewer: David Cunningham