‘The Actor's Nightmare’ review

Theatre, Comedy
2 out of 5 stars
The Actor’s Nightmare, 2019, Park Theatre
© Ali Wright

Time Out says

2 out of 5 stars

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A great cast struggle with iffy material in this compendium of short comic plays by Christopher Durang

‘The Actor’s Nightmare’ isn’t so much a play as a sketch show. Company 3hearts Canvas has brought together six of Tony Award-winning playwright Christopher Durang’s short pieces together under a single title, thematically linked by their concerns with theatre, performance and the entertainment industry. Unfortunately the quality is distinctly uneven.

‘Mrs Sorken’ is a monologue on the purpose of theatre with vaguely Freudian word-association games plaited in. ‘Business Lunch at the Russian Tea Room’ sees a struggling theatre writer offered a gig by a caricature of a Hollywood agent, to write a ‘sensitive’ movie that is, inevitably, crass and stupid. ‘Medea’, the strongest piece, is a modern restaging of ‘The Trojan Women’ ‘directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and choreographed by Britney Spears’; it allows director Lydia Parker a chance to blow raspberries at pretentious restagings and cynical celebrity collabs, and features a star turn from Kate Sumpter as a pompously melancholic Medea. 

The second half marks a downward slip in quality. ‘Woman Stand-Up’ sees a damaged woman trying to turn her trauma into a comedy set, complete with fake laugh track, in a vicious, reductive portrayal of vulnerability. ‘Desire, Desire, Desire’ is a send-up of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, poking fun at clichés so familiar that the poking fun itself feels clichéd. Finally, ‘An Actor’s Nightmare’ is set in, well, an actor’s nightmare, where the play keeps changing and the actor doesn’t know any of the lines, on and on and on ad nauseam.

Dull though some of the shorts are, they provide a chance to discover a talented cast of versatile comic actors, with particularly stand-out performances from Sumpter and Adrian Richards. 

Durang’s work has been referred to as ‘absurd’. Well, it’s not Ionesco, ultimately depicting the lonely pointlessness of human existence, nor is it Netflix’s ‘I Think You Should Leave’, with ordinary situations taken to their bonkers extreme. It is simply silly. Its comedy is usually pitched at pantomime level, but its references hanker after sophistication. Ultimately, the jokes here just aren’t very funny.

By: Ka Bradley

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