Belvedere, written by Ana-Maria Bamberger, is a short play that so wants to be an existential Russian short story that it hurts, and is so slight that if you took away the rather good set, it would blow away.
The end of the piece loops us back to the beginning nicely, mobius strip-like, but what does it all amount to, for even though it feels like Belvedere is dealing with the big existential issues, it isn't. It says nothing new.
Anton (Steve Wickenden) is an inmate in a psychiatric clinic, the Belvedere, who spends his days solving 'The Bumper Book of Chekov Crosswords' (presumably a very slim volume).
He's an angry sort, a huffy sort, the sort who finds any road sign that doesn't point to a town called Sarcasm completely redundant. Arrogant, but not to the point of dislikeability, he is in turns frustrated and bewildered by the situation he finds himself in.
What that situation is is never quite explained. We do learn that he was/is a brilliant, handsome, and feted writer to whom something has happened. There are hints later of what that something might be, but we are still left guessing.
Enter Dr Defoe (Kathryn Worth), his nervous, twitchy psychiatrist who he bullies mercilessly. Here we begin to see that perhaps all isn't quite as it seems. After all, what sort of psychiatrist would let their patient have smokes in return for promising to appear in their lecture as the hospital's 'star turn'? And would she really hype Anton's talents up so much?
Timid woman number two knocks on his door and enters his world on the ward. This time it's Stephanie (Worth again) who claims to be an ex-girlfriend from college. Anton at first doesn't remember her but as she reminisces about the month they spent together he begins to recall. Or he thinks he does.
But what is real and what is in Anton's mind? Yes, it's that old chestnut. Now, old chestnuts, as everyone knows, can work fabuously on the stage but this isn't one of those times. The play just hasn't enough meat to take away that stale nut taste.
Despite the actors being rather good, the piece doesn't seem to have much to say. Wickenden's Anton has a little too much eye-rolling and one-note insouciance, but when he forgets about all that and acts 'in the moment' he does manage to convince.
Worth is adequate in the two female roles but, as with Wickenden, once she drops the nervy character tics she's half as good again.
The set is (pardon the pun) the scene-stealer, with overtones of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It is one big Chekov crossword puzzle - walls and chairs - to which Anton adds his own answers in a scene that does somewhat solve the real/all in the mind conundrum. Drawers don't pop out of the walls quite as easily as they do in the Curious Incident but then not everyone has quite the National's budget. I did fear for another part of the set: a goldfish that only stirred when it got a bunch of flowers thrust into its bowl.
The end of the piece loops us back to the beginning nicely, mobius strip-like, but what does it all amount to, for even though it feels like Belvedere is dealing with the big existential issues, it isn't. It says nothing new. It's just too slight for its own good. That puff of wind came and I've almost forgotten it already.