One-act plays have been too long neglected, in my view. They come straight to the point (which I like) and don’t go on long enough to become tedious. But it’s rare that you have the chance to enjoy two one-act plays in a single evening that complement each other so very neatly: Man’s View by Derek Webb and Art by Yasmina Reza.
The Aldermaston Players, a newly-formed theatre group, recently staged these two contrasting short plays, which proved at once highly entertaining and thought-provoking. Combine them together and you might end up with something along the lines of Abigail’s Party…
Art. We all know what it is, don’t we? But everyone has a different idea of what makes really good art, don’t they? Same with Beauty. All in the eye of the beholder in the end, isn’t it? Same with Music and er – quite a lot of other things. So does that mean there are no recognized standards which we can judge Art by? Well, yes and no. That’s what Art – the play I mean – attempts to explore. And it does so, most entertainingly. Especially in the hands of three talented actors: Glynn Oram, Geoff Dalimore and Boott himself.
Serge, played by Oram with a certain steely tension that becomes progressively more frayed at the edges, has purchased a controversial painting at an exorbitant price – at least according to his old chum Marc (Boott). What follows, if I can express this convincingly without painting myself into Pseuds’ Corner, is a fascinating deconstruction of what makes a work of art what it is, how we approach it, and what criteria we use to judge it on. It’s never very agreeable when you spend a lot of cash on something only to be told by someone you like and respect that it is actually a piece of shit. But that’s what happens here, and everything in the play flows from it.
You might think this ultimately an arid area of discussion, since conflicting opinions are never likely to be resolved, but the triumph of the play is in the writing, whose mode of expression never becomes pretentious but is always believable, and the performances: Boott cheerfully laconic, Oram eminently reasonable and genuine.
And lest all this become too abstracted from reality, there is a sub-plot cunningly inserted in the form of the third friend, Yvan (nicely played with mounting desperation by Dalimore) who is about to be married but has deep reservations, hates his new job but needs to hold on to it and who frets constantly over all and sundry – not least his two friends’ increasingly hostile attitude towards each other, and him. In fact the three do come to blows, rather comically, but thankfully not irretrievably.
Man’s View is an altogether lighter piece, even if like the Moon, it does have a dark side. Its brevity is regrettable, because this equally absorbing work potentially has a great deal to say about nostalgia, friendship and the secrets that we keep. Just about everyone must be aware of the current trend for revisiting one’s past through the seemingly ubiquitous social networking sites; the internet has altered time, in that it can make everything contemporary at once, re-opening chapters of our history that once were lost. Of course it can be a double-edged sword too, because although the past is a nice place to visit, it does tend to become scary if you linger there too long.
This play re-unites three women who went to school together. At first it’s all jolly drunken bonhomie and a little bit of sauciness, but it’s not long before the seamier side of life rears its ugly head. The effervescent Carol (Zoe Wilgar) brings home her sultry friend Judy (Catherine Hannan) and the reticent Ann (Rebecca Passey) for a reminiscing session over a couple of drinks, or five. Carol’s husband Dave (Graham Jerome) has been mysteriously delayed – and this is what gives the play its shape.
‘Let’s not go there’ is a phrase any long-lost friends reunited would do well to remember. With the three women virtually on the brink of chucking the crockery around, and the outraged Ann ready to walk out, the ultimate source of their anguish materialises. I won’t spoil the outcome for anyone who hasn’t seen it – but suffice to say the belated appearance of the oleaginous Dave (think Stringfellow), turns out more of a shock to the girls than it does to us. Then just as things begin to get really interesting, the play ends! I would have liked the author to take it a stage further; as it is though, the actors have extracted most of the juice from the story’s original idea.
To sum up then, the two plays together offer a teasingly truthful insight into the dichotomy of art and reality, the subjective versus the objective, and the fundamental differences between men and women, and their take on life. Not a line is wasted throughout, and there are some delightfully funny moments: Yvan pleading helplessly for his dinner, Serge’s restless moving and replacing of his treasured painting, Dave’s breezy insouciance, Carol’s awful, jaw-dropping moment of realization.
A critic’s job is tough – not least because there is so little here to criticise. My only quibbles would be the running order – as the longer, more ‘serious’ play, I think Art ought to have followed Man’s View, which would make a tempting hors d’oeuvre; and a little more diligent learning of lines (harsh perhaps, given the intricacies of some of the longer speeches) would have allowed things to run a shade more smoothly. That apart, I can only warmly congratulate everyone involved in the production and give the Aldermaston Players ten out of ten.