There’s a lovely bit in Amadeus where the king ventures to share his appraisal of Mozart’s music by repeating the witless comments of his advisors and telling him “There were too many notes in it”, thereby leaving himself open to the composer’s riposte; “Which notes would you have me take out, your majesty?”
In criticising the performance of ‘Debris’ in the Belltable last Saturday night,-
I may be in danger of leaving myself open to a shade of the exact same folly in the following statement; but this reaction, though glibly expressed, is at least my own, and it is this:
There was too many words in it.
Now, just like the Austrian monarch of Amadeus, I can’t exactly pin which exact words would warrant removal but I do think there must have been too many words because how else can I explain my own original thoughts, being ‘Hmmmnn…maybe the Actor’s are speaking a little too quickly here?’ with my final conclusion: i.e. ‘I’m glad they spoke as quickly as they did,- otherwise it would’ve gone on forever’
Before I go any further with this, I should perhaps interject that the acting was top-class, it showed work, it showed courage, it showed bravery, understanding and talent…and both cast members I found utterly mesmerising when they had engaging material to work with, but the play didn’t work. For me. No.
It began, (as had Equus, the last play I saw) with the actors on stage, not ‘set’ but moving and messing about and interacting with each other. I’m not crazy about this, personally because without some clear, ‘official’ beginning it feels weird for me to stare openly at people ( I don’t know ) who may or may not be acting, but Erah…’twas grand. No biggy.
The setting seemed to be the end of a party, although this party wasn’t an actual setting of any of the stories ( that I could make out) and nor did there seem to be a reason for the tailors dummy, or the heads-on-sticks dotted around the place other than coming in handy for multiple characters later on. So picture the scene, two actors, chatting and throwing sweets at each other for a while, one stands up, and with a pop of a party popper, it began.
The ‘play’ itself was a collection of opaquely connected ‘chapters’: usually spoken directly to the audience by one or another cast member alone, and sometimes in combination. These chapters were lyrical and surreal stream-of-consciousness typey things depicting a suicide-by-crucifixion, a number of messy possible births, child abduction, child abuse, child neglect and something about god at the end that I can only presume was deemed climactic because it was about God with the capital ‘G’.
Chapter headings were provided by a kind of powerpoint display of words or icons, with a variation of lighting schemes and some strobe-lighting for the more violent ‘action’. Some really nice mad descriptive prose in places, but apart from the abduction story, there was not much that I found followable, there was not much to for me invest in, and I find it hard to see how switching around the ‘chapters’ would have significantly affected the whole experience.
I guess I just didn’t get it: I wanted to.
It’s always great to be in a room with people who are primed to deliver a real and solid performance to the best of their ability, and in this case, to my mind, the best of their ability was a truly high standard indeed. My only problem was with the script.
Too many words: not enough drama.
Debris’ by Dennis Kelly, featuring Dominic McHale and Claire Mullane. Directed by Brian Fenton.