In a new version by Rupert Goold and Ben Power
On being seated on the front row of the Gielgud Theatre looking up onto the eerily empty and expansive office space for which this new version of ‘Six characters in search of an author’ is set, I can’t help but to be reminded of the office on the seventh and a half floor in the film ‘Being John Malkovich’. In fact, it should be the exact inverse of what it is like being in the seventh and a half floor office but the link goes deeper than that.
In the original version of this Luigi Pirandello play, the main theme is questioning what is real and made-up and where reality ends and fiction begins by setting a play within a play. This new version by Rupert Goold and Ben Power has added a modern twist by using a film based on Pirandello’s characters about the making of drama documentary within a play. Confused? They certain tried.
By adding complexities and layers onto the original 1921 play, this production attempts to re fresh of the main ideas, having had numerous interpretations ranging from ‘The Purple Rose Of Cairo’ to the recent, and perhaps less successful, ‘Stranger than Fiction’. As if that is not enough, elementary discussions of existentialism, euthanasia and inner workings of entertainment industry are thrown in for good measure. There are enough ideas in this one production for four or five others.
Somewhere within all this, there are some great performances especially by Ian McDiarmid who plays the Father. His perversion of lusting after his step-daughter and the power of dictating the proceedings are well judged. Denise Gough’s Step-Daughter is rebellious with the vulnerability of the abused. The Producer is played with the naturalism that was much discussed within the play by Noma Dumezeni.
The office set depicts humdrum reality but with a sense of deliberate fabrication, like the photographic recreations found in Thomas Demand’s work. The use of films, projections and well timed sound effects again add to the sense of modernity which runs throughout the production. The only problem I have with the production is the slackening of pace towards the end, giving the impression of not quite knowing what to do with the ending. This, as you learn in the play, was the problem Pirandello had when he was writing it. This is the self-parody that the title play on itself, teasing people like Goold and Power to have a go. It is a courageous and ambitious attempt which has achieved a lot but hasn’t quite provided the ending that may prove definitive. As the tongue-in-cheek last words in the script ‘An End’ suggest, Goold and Power know it.