Tuesday, May 28

Play Pretend – Traverse Theatre

A brand new play from writer Katie Fraser, directed by Laura Walker for Framework Theatre, a Scotland-based charitable organisation which supports emerging and early-career theatre makers. This play certainly has the feel of a development piece, a bit rough in places, but also fresh with clever ideas, enough to keep you leaning in and invested to the end.

Chemistry, synergy, comradeship, trust, improvisation; all elements of acting which are extremely important and which are played out as exercises in drama schools everywhere. But in today’s society have the methods of building on-stage and on-screen relationship with your fellow actors become outdated, dangerous even. And how close is too close today?

This play-within-a-play sees seasoned actor Greg rehearsing his role as Bonnie Prince Charlie and bright young thing Amy, fresh from drama school, eager to learn from him in her first paid role as Flora McDonald.

Often switching from the ‘real life’ of the rehearsal studio to the historical reenactment of scenes between Charlie and Flora, the format is certainly not new, but is handled with some new twists here as Actors Clare Wooton and Gerry Kielty play actors playing actors playing actors. An enigma wrapped in a paradox and shrouded in a conundrum you might say.

It soon becomes clear that Greg is all too happy to push the romantic scenes as far as he can, and also use drama school warm-up exercises and trust games to build his ‘friendship’ with his leading lady. As the underlying agenda becomes clearer Amy pushes back against not just the lines written on the page (she wouldn’t say that), but also the all-too-familiar stereotype story about the (male) abuse of power within the theatre industry.

The actors on stage are intentionally clumsy and lines are crashed, missed, bumped, the chemistry between the actors is horrible. The implication is that without the offstage chemistry the up coming show will be a disaster.

How far will Amy go to build the chemistry and synergy required to become a believable Flora, and just how far will Greg go to persuade her?  

There is perhaps a bit much of the historical reenactment and not enough of the real drama between the actors, which is a shame because that’s where the real interest lies. The set changes are also confusingly glacial, perhaps signifying the gradual evolution of the relationship, but nonetheless draining a lot of the energy from the piece, with little gain. It would have been nice to have perhaps varied the pace of the play, slickness of lines and speed of set changes depending upon the state of the ‘chemistry’ between the actors, although that may have taken longer than this quick hour!

A play about the evolving state of our theatre spaces in the Me Too era. Very interesting.

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 24th November 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.