Much Ado Scratch Night, Rich Mix London, 3 March 2012
A new theatrical experiment from Arne Pohlmeier of Two Gents productions, renowned for its Vakomana Vaviri ve Zimbabwe and Kupenga Kwa Hamlet, was always going to be an attractive proposition.
A cut-down, two-handed performance of Much Ado About Nothing sounded intriguing. The five-pound ticket price clinched the deal conclusively.
An extra row of seating had to be put out because of unexpectedly high demand, which also boded well.
The performance area of the studio theatre contained just four white chairs. The lights illuminating them soon dimmed and voices off spoke the dialogue in which Benedick repudiates marriage, telling Don Pedro that he has no intention of being labelled “Benedick, the married man.”
After this scene setting the actors appeared from the side, beginning at the beginning with “I learn in this letter…”. They continued in a whir of words and motion without interval to the end of the story just over an hour later.
All the parts were played by Arne Pohlmeier and Emily Wallis with movement work by Yukiko Masui, which was intended to accentuate character delineation. The text was filleted down to create a run time of just over an hour. It contained the bare bones of the structure including the Hero/Claudio subplot. The skilful editing meant that nothing vital went missing.
This performance marked director Arne’s acting debut. Consequently there was a disparity between his technique and Emily’s more expert use of voice and movement. The differentiation of her characters, from Beatrice (a quick mincing walk), Hero (hands clasped in front chastely) and Claudio (hand stuck in front pocket) and Borachio (lolling drunkard) was clearer than Arne’s, who managed to adopt Hero’s hand clasp, but little else.
More work is needed to get them operating on the same level. But given that what we saw was the result of just two weeks’ rehearsal, the overall quality was impressive. In particular, they had managed to mark the transition between scenes by stepping out of performance mode into quiet passivity before launching into the next one.
With just two performers the action was necessarily very fluid, which meant that audience attention was constantly focused. Over just 70 minutes, this is quite easy to maintain.
The audience also found themselves involved in the action, representing silent characters to which the pair could then refer.
The one stand-out scene was Claudio’s rejection of Hero, which worked really well. All the key elements in the production came together to produce a gripping result.
This being a work-in-progress, some lines were forgot and the cast occasionally read from crib sheets. But at this stage no one was expecting perfection. Both performers built up such a level of credit with the audience that minor faults did nothing to detract from the enjoyment.
However, familiarity with the play was an advantage. This would not have been an ideal introduction to the play for anyone who had not seen it before.
Feedback session Q&A
After the performance the audience was invited to a feedback session in a neighbouring room. The fact that once again more chairs were needed, this time to accommodate those with things to say about what we had just seen, heralded what followed: the feedback was universally positive, leaving Arne Pohlmeier with a beaming grin as he noted down the words of praise.
The cast also had questions for the audience. Emily was concerned that long speeches with little action would put the audience off. But in a small studio space the audience feels individually addressed and engaged by a single performer talking in soliloquy.
There was agreement that it was good to hear the text spoken clearly with a minimum of distraction and that when this was done well, it could override any lack of clarity regarding plot and character. However, it was felt that more distinction between characters was needed.
It is always exciting to see a project in the earliest stages of its development. The next stage of this one is eagerly anticipated.