Play: The Balcony
Venue: Drama Barn
Starring: William Seaward, Sarah Barker, Sam Hinton, James Quelch
Rating: * * *
As the lights went up on a madly staring William Seaward in full bishop’s regalia, it seemed at first that panto had succeeded in penetrating the usually more sober Drama Barn. However, it soon became apparent that Jean Genet’s play had rather more substance to its use of dress-up.
A work initially described as “confusing” by critics is nothing if not complex. Throughout, the nature of illusion and reality is explored, with frequent reference made to the concept of “function” in society. Set in Madame Irma’s brothel, or as she inconsistently prefers, “House of Illusions”, the central idea of image is considered first through the bizarre fantasies of the clients, and later the fallout of a revolution in the city outside.
A play of this scope, especially one so explicitly designed for the big stage, was an ambitious project indeed, and unfortunately the production did not manage to fully realise the director’s vision. The first use of a live feed screen in the drama barn was an excellent idea, but technically perhaps too challenging.
The strongest elements of the play were the more fluid scenes in the second act, when full use was made of the impressively painted stage, though the outstandingly comic trio of Seaward, James Duckworth and Matthew Lacey missed the occasional seriousness needed to create bathos rather than farce.
Playing alongside them, Sam Hinton skilfully portrayed a frustrated Chief-of-Police desperate for glory, while James Quelch was the epitome of unhelpful politeness as The Queen’s Envoy. However, Sarah Barker’s Madame Irma at times lacked the regally commanding presence the character demanded.
In a play so fundamentally concerned with creating illusion, it is a cruel irony that the production failed to fully draw the audience into its reality.