A Life in the Theatre
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
The scenes that make up A Life In The Theatre are short; some barely consisting of a handful of lines. The number of set changes that take place are simply tremendous. But since all the action takes place in a theatre, the crew is able to move around in a sort of half-light, not having to worry quite as much about covering up their actions.
But between doors that fly in from above and doors and dressing rooms that roll in from either wing, it's so astonishing that the crew is able to maneuver things so flawlessly into place - every time. And while each scene may take place in a different part of a theatre, they all ultimately take place in the same building - thus creating a certain amount of claustrophobia that is partially alleviated by the constant changing of sets.
The sets themselves are clever and spare, composed of only the most essential elements of each mini-location, which lets the acting take center stage. Luckily, this is a challenge that Jimmy Chisholm (playing Robert) and Joe McFadden (playing John) are more than capable of standing up to.
So much of A Life In The Theatre is dependant on the chemistry between these two actors that it would be easy to lose a lot of the meaning with a pair of actors who didn't possess the manner, both poignant and flippant, of interacting that Chisholm and McFadden possess. Whether they're climbing into or out of their civvies, parading around backstage, or engaging in long (well, comparatively long, given the average scene lengths) discussions, Chisholm and McFadden are able to draw the audience closer with every word they speak.
It's fascinating to watch them interact, especially as one realizes that, more often than not, A Life In The Theatre is about what's not being said by one or the other of them. The hints we receive of Robert's declining career come as fleeting glimpses of his behavior off-stage, a mortifying moment when he can't remember his lines, and his increasing dogging after John for attention and conversation.
The only times when this generally able relationship falters is at the opening of the play, when Mamet's use of language is probably more to blame - and other than waiting for the audience to settle into Mamet's clipped, stark words, there's not much an actor or director (in this case, Tony Cownie) can do.
The only real shortcoming of this production is that, at times, the incidental music (composed by Iain Johnstone) seems to invade quiet, private moments; midway through act two it seemed like the music was being played a bit louder than was actually necessary, which detracted from the impact of one or two of the scenes' endings.
But overall the Lyceum's production has all the ingredients for a good night in the theatre. It will be playing until Saturday, 31 January.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody