Etcetera Theatre, Camden
There is a fairy-tale quality to the opening of the LZA Theatre production of The Eisteddfod.
Gerture (Leila Ruban) and Abalone (Heath Ivey-Law) stand centre-stage in the semi-darkness. They are clothed simply in white underwear and white socks. An offstage voice tells us they are a sister and brother in their teens and that their parents died in a freak accident.
The way the two visually respond to the news of the deaths is amusing and suggests it is not to be taken too seriously. However it does serve as a reason for them to never leave their homes and to retreat into a world of games.
Some of these they play together. In one game, they become their parents. Other games they play separately, and this worries Abalone who seems to want his sister’s total attention.
Gerture creates an imaginary classroom where she teaches with the support of an imaginary classroom assistant.
Meanwhile, Abalone prepares his performance of Macbeth for his imaginary entry in the Eisteddfod, a competitive culture festival in Wales. He tries to tempt Gerture to join him by telling her the prize is a trip to Moscow.
Agreeing to play the role of Lady Macbeth, she quickly claims to know all the lines—after all it can’t take long when everything is pretend. When he panics about remembering his own lines, she helps him by modifying the fantasy.
Soon they are exploring the difficulties she is having with her imaginary partner, the oppressive Ian. Abalone takes the role of her partner, making Ian sound formal and cold.
The actors give a clear, consistent performance, but we can never really believe they are children. It’s not simply the complexity of the language they use, or their appearance. It is everything they do, whether that is the fantasy of a sexual relationship or the performance of Macbeth.
Of course, this may be the point of the play, dramatically exploring the way adults can sometimes retreat into playful childlike fantasies.
There are no big issues or any significant character development beyond establishing that Abalone is needy and attention-seeking and that Gerture tends to be submissive.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to see what the script is intended to be. It certainly has no unsettling moments of drama, except perhaps among the audience worried that it seemed to be lasting longer than the advertised length.
Perhaps it was meant to be just a gentle, extended, slightly unusual romantic comedy sketch. Some people did occasionally laugh. Most laughed very little or not at all.
Since I couldn’t fault the performances, I was left wondering what attracted LZA Theatre to produce what felt like a very slight play.
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna