Illusions

Fri 15th February 2013

reviews

Rosie Oxbury

at 09:00 on 16th Feb 2013

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'Illusions' was a bizarre and beautiful experience. At the opening, there was no curtain-up: the actors simply walked onto the stage and assumed their places; although the spotlights came on, the lights over the auditorium hardly dimmed. The effect was one of complicity or intimacy between actors and audience – the set up was more like an interview or a stand-up routine, for want of a better comparison, than a piece of drama. Amanda Drew took up the microphone, smiled at the audience and announced to us “I’m going to tell you a little story”.

It was hardly little, however. The play was more multi-layered than its blurb would suggest. I’d normally run a mile from a play which claimed to be the “perfect Valentine’s Day exploration of the nature of true love”, but this was more like The Sea, The Sea than Love Actually. What was presented was a rich web of stories, and with it a whole spectrum of emotions. The storytelling took us from empathy, through gentle comedy, surprise, humour, tragedy, frustration, suspense and aching sadness.

I can’t convey exactly what the final effect of the piece was. It was horribly moving, but I couldn’t pin it to anything as simple as “happy” or “sad”. The whole play was about getting at something beyond words – beyond words like “love” and “happiness”. It questioned in a profound yet sensitive way what these concepts actually mean: whether these ideals can be no more than just illusions, when they define how people live their lives – right to the end. Overwhelming is perhaps the best word for the production: at the end, the actors took their bows and the audience applauded, but many remained seated for moments afterwards in a kind of daze.

The acting was breathtaking. The actors had to balance playing a passive narrator with performing the characters of their stories. Cazimir Liske, I thought, was best at inhabiting the characters, while Drew, who set the performance in motion, truly held the audience in the palm of her hand – she could turn the mood in the auditorium on a single sentence. I liked that the director allowed each narrator to have a slightly different persona, so that the individual personalities subtly balanced one another out – thus Drew’s persona sounded much maturer than that of Ony Uhiara, and Laurence Mitchell could show a somewhat sardonic sense of humour, in contrast to Liske’s more romantic narrator.

I don’t think the director made a single bad decision. The use of a microphone was definitely a good idea, allowing for a greater intimacy in the theatre, because the actors could deliver in their usual speaking voices. I was skeptical when I saw an electric guitar placed on stage, but it was used very effectively to tweak the atmosphere, perfectly complementing the words being spoken. Lighting, similarly, was used minimally but powerfully: there was one single change of lighting, as Drew announced that we were coming to the end.

All in all, it was a mesmerising and transporting performance. At the end, I had no idea of how much time had passed since Amanda Drew first came to the microphone. The cliché of forgetting yourself in the fiction proved true, and I was an eighty-odd year old man, watching the flickering blue light in the sky.

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