Venue: The Drama Barn
Michael Frayn’s plays are known for their sparkling wit, and the performance of The Audience at the Drama Barn was kept fresh from the beginning. The straggle of people waiting outside for the doors to open were shepherded round the side of the building to enter from backstage, and then ushered to sit facing the tiered seating where the audience usually assembles.
All very exciting, and even more so when I saw my friend’s name on the program. Except – my friend was sitting next to me and had never seen any Frayn before… and there was my name too! Even though I had seen I was down on the list at the door as the mysterious “Nouse”. These playful touches by the production team created a fun atmosphere of anticipation as the lights dimmed… except they didn’t dim, in fact they brightened to a spot light facing towards us. Instantly I was transported to my last theatrical performance; it was year 9 when I played a non-speaking street fruit-vendor with a tray strapped to my chest, in a bizarre school musical penned by an ambitious drama teacher. I tried not to fidget.
This self-consciousness is the angle played up by Frayn as he holds up a mirror to us, the audience, with our distractions and side plots. The cast bounced off each other well as short lines from each character served to knit them together as the “play” went on. Physical comedy of the characters reacting in unison emphasised the farcical aspects of the play. This was conducted from behind by the “playwright” acted by Harry Whittaker, who put in a grand performance with just a hint of exasperated David Mitchell.
The beauty of a Frayn play is that the humour inherent in it is enough to carry any performance and make it shine, however it does also create a springboard for truly brilliant performances from exceptional comic actors. Sam Hill as a Kenneth Williams-style Quentin should receive a special mention, as every line that he delivered caused explosive laughter from the audience.
All the actors gave a buoyant performance throughout the very short play. At the end the elderly Merrill mutters that it felt like there was half the play left to see; the atmosphere in the Drama Barn indicated the audience would have loved to have double the length of the performance as it was so enjoyable and I would definitely recommend that you go and see this play.