Theatre, Musicals & Concerts – Views & Reviews
The Royal Court’s Theatre Local initiative involves staging productions away from their Sloane Square home to place them “at the heart of London life”. This European premiere of Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation was staged in the Rose Lipman Building, a community hall in Haggerston; although the interior of the hall was an appropriate setting for the play and certainly gave a sense of intimacy, it still seemed a peculiar venture given the assembled characters were from Vermont USA and not Hackney E8.
Previously staged Off-Broadway in 2009 winning an Obie Award for Best New American Play, the play follows the lives of five people at a community class over the space of six weeks. Marty (Imelda Staunton) leads the classes which offer therapy through drama, with a soft voice and overly patient mannerisms that suggests frustration underneath.
The play text contains instructions from the author for the actors to strictly observe the pauses (of which there are many) as they are “just as important as the dialogue”, and as this incredible cast deliver them with great performances showing their characters’ discomfort and awkwardness. The repeated exercise where they attempt to count to ten as a group without talking over each other proudly breaks the comedic ‘rule of three’ and leaves the audience just as frustrated as the participants.
Very little happens in terms of plot, but our understanding of the characters deepens each week with windows into what’s happening in their outside lives. Marty’s husband James (Danny Webb) has become estranged from their daughter; Schultz (Toby Jones) is lonely and looking to nurse his emotional wounds from a recent divorce; Theresa (Fenella Woolgar) is blindly optimistic about her new life away from New York where her acting ambitions were as unsuccessful as her love life; and 16-year old Lauren is painfully shy and frustrated that the class doesn’t seem to be covering any ‘real acting’.
Despite the comedy, the piece never mocks the therapy sessions and although I was left a little confused as to what the author was trying to convey, it offered a fascinating insight into five lost characters, their struggle to connect with others and to understand their own emotions.