Hen and Chickens Theatre, running 03 September

Allusions to the world of theatre run deeply through Reza de Wet’s Miracle; the basic premise is that a weary band of down-at-the-heel travelling players stop in an unnamed town to perform something that is redolent of the traditional morality play. In this troupe of actors we catch glimpses of what might have happened if Stoppard had fixed his eye on the Players rather than Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. However the play it cleaves most strongly to is Pirendello’s masterpiece, Six Characters In Search Of An Author. In many ways Miracle appears the inverse of Pirendello. Here it is the actors who are disturbed by a strange, almost alien presence, who represents the unknown outer world and acts as a catalyst for action. The absurdist fantasy of Pirendello has been exchanged for a more linear narrative structure but the resulting play retains an intriguing layered quality viewed through the unravelling of the travelling company.

In giving the play a theme, the director, James Farrell, focuses the attention primarily on the sense of a theatrical world gone to seed and this helps to breathe life into a script that occasionally has a rather leaden feel. When the play springs into action it comes through the dynamism of the actors’ handling of the material rather than from a script that feels like it is striving towards a grander purpose than it ever quite earns. In Farrell’s vision of exaggerated theatricality and stars on the wane, we see hints of Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon continually returning to the vaudeville rather than confront the present.

On stage this comes through in the excellent central performance by Edmund Dehn as Du Pre. He is the glue that is holding the actors together as a functioning company, and in the play as a whole it is his energy that keeps the audience engaged with the action. Dehn’s De Pre provides a wonderful sense of the final days of music hall; the constant travelling from town to town, reaching gradually dwindling audiences in ever smaller towns. He is a man who has been on the road a long time, a former star for whom accepting second fiddle would be a humiliation greater than playing to an audience of  ten. So he continues and with him he drags a company by sheer force of personality alone until they reach a point where physically and mentally they cannot continue.

Dehn as the fading star appears to have channelled something of the off-screen Tony Hancock. There are the same hints of the haunting depressions existing under the surface; the weariness of a life travelling set against an almost pathological need to be centre stage on stage and off. The audience recognises him both as a petty tyrant, bullying the hapless Antoinne who appears entirely subservient to him, whilst understanding that he sees it as his duty to ensure the security of his companions; much in the same way a medieval nobleman would look after his court.

Christie Miller, as the malevolent outsider Anna, who acts as the catalyst for action is very enjoyable as a kind of Hyacinth Bucket seen through the eyes of Pedro Almodovar,  and the rest of the cast provide solid support but are not helped by a script that does not give them a great deal to work and lacks a tonal quality. There are high points throughout; Annabelle Lanyon’s Salome provides the opportunity to glimpse Du Pre in his greatest days and in their familiarity there is a heartbreaking fragility that undercuts Salome’s attempts to maintain her childlike playfulness against the evidence of the passing years. However the unsung star of the show is Hatty Jones as Lenie. The part itself is little more than a cipher through which the thrust of the action takes place but Jones adds substantial meat to the bones. In the scene at dinner she has barely a line but steals the action with her nervy, anguished looks; adding a much-needed gravitas and tragedy to an event that forms the crux of the play.

Nameless Theatre’s production of Miracle has a sense of purpose, is thematically clear and well supported by a strong cast. However, for all of the accolades garlanded upon Reza De Wet, it is solid rather than spectacular script. Whilst there are interesting ideas throughout it is set against an unfortunately overly-mechanical plot. Given what has been achieved with this, it would be interesting to see the same team throw themselves into its obvious parallel in Pirendello and see the results.

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