Vanishing Point, inspired by the play Interior by Maurice Maeterlinck
Lyric Hammersmith Studio
Scottish company Vanishing Point had a lot to live up to after the marvellous Subway, one of the highlights of Edinburgh 2007 and later seen in this space.
They (with an international cast) have done it again, thanks to the imagination and meticulous direction of the company's founder, Matthew Lenton.
Despite being largely unknown, Maurice Maeterlinck is one of those names that can be trotted out when playing the "name a famous Belgian" game. This avant garde playwright richly deserves a retrospective if this updated version of his 1894 play Interior is anything to go by.
The intriguing mystery features an ensemble of eight actors, each helpfully playing a character with their own name. It is set in the comfortably furnished, Kai Fisher-designed green wooden cabin of Andrew (Melville) on the longest night of the year in some frozen country populated by polar bears and people with guns.
The dining table is set for a celebration of better things as winter departs. Eight places await diners at an evening that turns out to be no worse than the average disastrous dinner party. Everyone wants to have a good time but life isn't like that and for some couples happiness is mutually exclusive.
It quickly becomes apparent that the glass in the windows will render what happens behind them silent, in a quirkily Chaplinesque style best exemplified by eccentric Myra (McFadyen).
The visitors all have their funny ways and wordlessly express them to perfection. Soon, a female voiceover begins to narrate their story with a cool objectivity that can border on the patronising.
The combination can be absolutely hilarious, especially when it becomes apparent that Elicia Daly's viewer, who takes some time to appear in person, is not only prescient but has the ability to read minds and tell us what characters are really thinking. This is inevitably sometimes at odds with their outward actions and turns the experience into something quite unusual.
In only 80 minutes, we see two couples go from lovey-dovey to chilly and frosty respectively, while the remaining three diners show different aspects of lonely endurance. From an early stage, that empty place at the table haunts viewers' thoughts and the mystery is revealed in a moving ending.
Along the way, there is a series of great moments, both happy and sad, accompanied by a well-judged soundscape, courtesy of Alasdair Macrae, that peaks in an unforgettable rendition of Buggles' Video Killed the Radio Star by the grumpy, insecure Barney (Power) and the love of his life Aurora (Peres).
This is a perfectly-constructed production beautifully acted and realised that grabs the attention at the start and never lets up. Go and see it if you are interested in the nature of performance and playwriting or merely want an intriguing and fulfilling night out.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher