Director Rupert Goold has a lot to live up to. His last West End production, the Patrick Stewart-led Macbeth, collected a clutch of awards and almost universal acclaim. So all eyes were on this new production of Six Characters In Search Of An Author, to see if he could repeat the trick…
Six Characters In Search Of An Author has more layers of reality than a theatrical mille feuille. Re-imagined by Goold and Ben Power, Pirandello’s 1921 piece, originally set in a play rehearsal, is moved to the production room of a documentary about a young boy’s journey to euthanasia. Into this stark world of contrasts, where executives moan about a lack of pain and emotion from a film about a dying child, comes a family of six characters begging for their disturbing story to be told.
Obligingly, the documentary’s producer, played by Laurence Olivier Award-winner Noma Dumezweni, agrees to put their tale on film, but in turn gets drawn into a world where the boundaries of reality are questioned at every turn.
What makes us real? What defines us? Tough philosophical questions at the best of times, but in a world where ordinary people are clamouring to have their stories told, tweaked and spun in papers and on television for a slice of fame, Goold’s production addresses them for a 21st century audience.
Just when you think you have grasped where the piece is going, another layer of reality is spooned on top, taking the show’s entire creative process to the stage.
Fans of Goold’s recent productions will not be surprised to see the director-with-a-golden-touch – recent hits include Macbeth, The Tempest (both starring Patrick Stewart) and The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot – using projection and video to sweep Six Characters into the present.
Among the cast, Denise Gough, as the characters’ step-daughter, is a bowler-hatted bundle of malevolence, making the use of a single rollerskate unnaturally nerve-jangling. Ian McDiarmid’s fatally flawed father is unreasonably reasonable as a man with the darkest of secrets at his heart. And Dumezweni becomes the personification of confusion itself as she slips into a state of confused reality.
And yet, while reality is a blurred and indistinguishable state, the hideous story of a family ripped apart by death and abuse is shockingly real.