Park Theatre, London – until 10 August 2019
It’s said that an actor’s worst nightmare is walking out on stage in front of a packed house – only to find they’re naked. It’s a double whammy if they’ve also forgotten their lines. Christopher Durang’s absurdist comedy The Actor’s Nightmare probably sums up, in about 25 minutes, all the insecurities and fears of those in the theatre.
As a standalone piece it falls woefully short of good value for a night out – which is probably why 3 hearts canvas provide a bit more bang for your buck by padding out the performance with a total of six Durang shorts about the acting profession.
Under the umbrella title of The Actor’s Nightmare, the production is funny, surreal, uncomfortable and frequently deranged – but never boring. However, it really is a show for theatre fans. There is a steady stream of references and lines from other iconic plays and if you’re not in the know then you may wonder what the hell is going on.
So this production has a lot going for it if you’re in the loop. If not, brush up on your Shakespeare, Beckett, Tennessee Williams and Coward. Before it actually gets to the titular piece there is a series of sketches which tenuously thread together in some stream of consciousness that almost makes sense.
The ensemble of Meaghan Martin, Layo-Christina Akinlude, Adrian Richards, Stefan Menaul and Kate Sumpter play a variety of parts that starts with Sumpter’s academic, public speaker, introducing the work.
There’s a skit about a struggling scriptwriter who is headhunted by a vacuous blonde producer looking for someone to write a trashy movie. Another sees Sumpter in full thesp mode playing Medea and then Richards busting a few moves to Lullaby On Broadway.
Camp Rock’s Meaghan Martin makes her stage debut with this production and she provides one of the most painful and touching scenes of the night with Durang’s Woman Stand-Up. We all know how comedians are insecure and riddled with doubt and poor self-esteem. Here she plays Cindy, an emotionally wrecked comic whose stand-up is so excruciatingly awful and self-indulgent that she clings to her own laughter track for approval.
It’s painful to watch but it also rubs a bit of the stardust and glitter off the whole showbiz image to expose the frail personalities working within it.
Richards, Akinlude and Sumpter raise the roof with a pastiche of Streetcar, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof and even a smattering of Glengarry Glen Ross.
The climax is the arrival of Stefan Menaul’s George at the stage door of a theatre. He’s not sure why he’s there, bafflement is written all over his face.
But the cast and stage manager appear to know him and have been expecting him – which is a bit of a surprise because he thought that he was an accountant and not called George.
They think he’s an actor and in a few seconds he is plunged into the daddy of all nightmares.
He doesn’t know his lines, he ‘s not even sure whether this is Hamlet or Private Lives or even A Man For All Seasons.
Surely this is all a terrible dream? Even when The Executioner arrives with an axe to play out the bloody finale of Seasons….
All credit to 3 hearts canvas for curating this compilation of Durang’s work and well done to the hard-working ensemble for delivering a fast-paced and wacky homage.
But while it would probably go down well at, say Edinburgh Fringe, its maverick style and piecemeal production, not to mention a reliance on a clued-up audience, makes it a bit rough and ready for the London mainstream stage.
The finale is clever and finely written but the extra shorts in this production don’t match it for elegance or flow seamlessly from one piece to another.
The Actor’s Nightmare runs on the Park90 stage until August 10.
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