6 Characters In Search Of An Author
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 8 Mar, then touring
We’ve all heard the stories about soap actors being approached and abused in the street, not for what they’ve done, but for the misdeeds of their characters. While we might chastise the people concerned for their foolishness, aren’t we all liable to mistake the authenticity created in fiction for truth? Perhaps the seductions of fiction are more powerful, because they’re simply more colourful than the everyday banalities of what we call real life.
Certainly, this revival of Pirandello’s classic at the Lyceum would suggest this to be the case. As it hasn’t been seen here for a while, I should explain that the premise of the piece sees the eponymous characters, a profoundly dysfunctional family with a story of incest, Oedipal resentment and filial betrayal, abandoned by their author and suddenly made flesh, invading a theatre. Here, they catch the less theatrical ‘real life’ actors and crew in mid rehearsal of another play by Pirandello.
Mark Thomson’s production of David Harrower’s sharp new version, in front of Frances O’Connor’s peculiar, marble-floored vacant stage set is admirable in its observations of the many philosophical and aesthetic paradoxes explored by the play. Questions about the extent to which our own and other people’s perceptions of us dictate what we think of as reality, notions about how directors, actors, or, for that matter, accountants are at fundamental odds with their real identity because of what we think they do, are to the fore. So too, old fashioned notions of art and narrative framing are profoundly questioned. But the period setting (the actors are costumed in the 1920s of the play’s original appearance) suggests the age of the aesthetic issues raised.
This classic outlived its period by over half a century, but the question of whether it now appears slightly arid – as much about drama and its conventions as anything that the piece itself questions as being ‘real life’ – is certainly worth asking. There is a difference between truth and fictional ‘authenticity’, but perhaps we’ve resolved that issue now, and can move on. For all that, there are some outstanding performances on display, with Amy Manson’s stepdaughter-turned hooker a stylised, cleverly observed turn, and Ron Donachie’s abusive, blusteringly self righteous father also strong in a generally well presented piece of large scale ensemble.