The Actor's Nightmare

Take one confused accountant. Put him backstage with no idea of how he got there, and add a stage manager who insists that he is George Spelvin, called upon tonight to replace another actor in a Noel Coward play. Or was it Shakespeare? Absurd comedy ensues as George struggles pitifully in the spotlight. In true nightmarish fashion, matters only go downhill for him as the play in question changes unpredictably, encompassing pastiches of Private Lives, Hamlet, Waiting for Godot and A Man For All Seasons. George’s distress escalates and his attempts to follow a mess of cues, whispered lines and angry reactions from the real actors is both funny and tragic. Put in the position of George’s audience, we begin to feel uncomfortably collusive in his misery as we chuckle at his failures. Is George dreaming, or is something even more surreal afoot?

The Actor’s Nightmare is a familiar component of many amateur dramatic repertories, and for good reason. Christopher Durang’s script doles out the laughs whilst making us squirm at George’s plight. Bancroft’s Players soon had the audience on their side, a full house lapping up the jokes. A very shaky start gave way to competent performances, especially during one moment where unscheduled audience participation was cleverly dealt with. Yet the only scene which really stands out in combining the play’s comic and psychological aspects is George’s lone moment on stage. Abandoned during a botched Hamlet, his feeble attempts at filling time end up revealing a great deal about his youth at a monastery.

George’s tribulations end on a confusing note as the comedy of the play unravels. Ideally, the audience should be left feeling unsettled as well as entertained, and I don’t feel that enough was done to highlight the darker aspects of the play. The cast preferred to play it safe and elicit good-natured laughter rather than probe the full absurdities of the situation. Cutting-edge and brilliantly acted it was not, but it had an excellent script to rely on, and you could do much worse for a gentle evening’s entertainment at the Fringe.

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Performances

The Blurb

Forced on stage, George must improvise lines for a play that shifts between Private Lives, Hamlet, Checkmate, and A Man for All Seasons; resulting in a theatrical disaster and a hilarious parody of literature's greatest writers.

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