Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 21-Sat 24 Mar
It’s hard not to feel a certain resistance to the term ‘play within a play’ these days. After over 20 years of those pieces which hide behind the terms ‘postmodern’ and ‘meta-narrative’ in order for members of the profession to talk about themselves and very little else, there’s bound to be a certain sense of alarm in any regular theatregoer. But be reassured, although these terms might apply to this new piece, the company behind it, ATC, speaks resolutely of a quality above the average. Last year, A Brief History of Helen of Troy and the Fringe’s Gizmo Love were among the most distinctive, intelligent and entertaining pieces you could’ve hoped to see.
So, in taking on this Robert Farquhar piece, director Gordon Anderson is aware of the pitfalls. In it, a group of actors are brought together to mount a play which intends to break artistic boundaries. Chief among these is the idea of having an actress perform fellatio live on stage. The guru-like director sees this as an important act of iconoclasm, not a point of view shared by the actress in question, much less her boyfriend. Yet this is not the only problem among a cast of me-generation wannabes.
‘It’s a play about a group of people in pursuit of the wrong things in a culture where there isn’t much guidance. It has a dark content, but it expresses itself in a very comic way,’ explains Anderson, who’ll be directing his last show as artistic director for the company. Unlike many of the plays that preceded it, this piece has a definite satirical focus, lampooning the ‘because I’m worth it’ mentality. ‘No one in the play has any ideology other than making the next moment work for them. It’s closest ancestor is Joe Orton,’ Anderson adds. ‘It’s a satire of that way of making art that is apparently about the underclass, but is really a piece of exploitative voyeurism. It turns into one of those plays that’s a bit pseudo, masquerading as meaningful. A play within a play, though, is a risky endeavour, it has to be more than a spoof - it has to hit real targets in the industry, like ego, power and lust, it has to be true about the bad things.’ So it’s postmodernism, Jim, but not as we know it.