Masterclass – Gareth Davies and the power of performance. (Theatre Review)
Old Fitz Theatre, 13 – 31 January
Photography – Marnya Roth
In the cinema, the viewer is an afterthought, a reality that occurs after the film project is complete, one of a series of numbers in a room. In the theatre the spectator is real (as opposed to a reality) and while cinema counts the spectators, it can be claimed that theatre counts on the spectator. It is a current error (as far as I can tell, one perpetrated by critics) to imagine that each audience can be exchanged for the other, as if a spectator could experience a film and a viewer experience a play. (see note below) In his farce Masterclass, Gareth Davies plays with the idea of an actor so complete he can take the lives of his audience with his performance, but this can only happen in live theatre, where theatre in fact depends on the audience as spectacle; so in Davies’ play, the audience, kills themselves in response to the great performance, (they can’t be killed by it) as the only act of integrity possible in the face of overwhelming perfection. A facinating question is, did the acting kill the spectator, or did the collaborative spectator die for the art?
Masterclass is a play exploring these ideas within the boundaries of a faux dramatic “masterclass” lesson. Gareth Davies is Gareth Davies, and Charlie Garber is Charlie Garber, friend and creation of Davies. If you’re confused by that, you’re meant to be as a spherical examination of the relationship between actor, the role, and the “creation” born as a result of that fusion is one of the tropes of theatre Davies pokes with his wit stick. The night I attended, the pair of very fine actors had their audience in an uproar with their clever rambling jokes about the ins and outs of the dramatic development of the struggling actor.
If there is a problem with Masterclass, it is the environment. This play was written for a short life span at a Fringe Festival, but is now opening the inaugural season for Red Line Productions. It’s not fair really, because the play badly needs its context – had I seen Masterclass at a fringe festival I would have felt very differently than seeing it on a main stage as part of a theatrical season. It’s humble-brag undertones are perfect for the easy-going aesthetic of the fringe, but become transparent on a different stage, as the sagging narrative middle comes to the fore leaving the play struggling to work out if it is the story of a character named Gareth Davies or Gareth Davies the character running a Masterclass as his personal history overwhelms. It doesn’t surprise me at all that people fell in love with it at the fringe, but this time around it is weighed down by a pretentiousness that I don’t think the play or Davies deserve. It also becomes one for the theatre makers – this is not a play for the man in the street, as the in jokes and private lamentations of actors brought to the stage, even in the funniest of ways, is too alienating for someone who has never attempted acting seriously, let alone never been involved in theatre making.
However, there is nothing wrong with a great show being presented for the theatre making community alone, even if it is playing it safe, and as I said in my opening paragraph, it does allow the audience to see themselves as spectator and as resting performer, even if it doesn’t invite them. (Now THAT would have been amazing) One thing is for certain, Davies and Garber are truly great actors with excellent comic timing who know their material well. There is a ballet-like-beauty in that sort of relationship that always occurs as magical on the stage, and that alone can be a reason to have a wonderful night at the theatre.
One small note of concern. This is Red Line Productions second production, and I can’t help but notice of their first five main stage productions, only one woman will appear. In fact it looks from the program, as if they will only have two women in their first seven, making it a total sausage fest between now and June. One assumes this problem happened by accident and is due to the speed with which they had to put a season together (a rookie error) but it is something they want to watch out for. Feel free to correct me in the comments below if I’m wrong about that.
(Note – many of these ideas have come from the excellent book I’m reading by Alain Badiou titled Rhapsody for the Theatre. You can buy it through Verso here. Highly reccommended)