Venue: Scenic Stage Theatre, Heslington East
Desperate to find his estranged son, Pridamant (Ollie Dickens) goes to the cave of the magician Alcandre (Katie MacIntrye) to find out what has happened to him. Aided by her servant Amanuensis (Kate Burke), Aleandre conjures up three visions from Pridamant’s son’s life.
The third year WDP production of The Illusion is Tony Kushner’s modern adaption of Pierre Corneille’s 1639 L’Illusion Comique. The play is based on the meta-theatrical device of “plays-within-a-play” as Pridamant observes the visions alongside the audience, occasionally commenting on what he discovers.
The thrust stage was effectively used with the action being played to the audience on the three sides. Thrust stages can sometimes be problematic as the actors’ facial expressions and speech can be obscured, but the cast of The Illusion avoided this.
With Pridamant, we learn the initially confusing fate of his son’s life. Using the same actors in each of the three visions effectively increased the audience’s confusion, especially as we are unsure whether the visions are connected or separate. Pridamant recognises his son (Nick Armfield) in every vision, although his name and the place he is in changes in each. MacIntyre was an imposing magician who seemed authoritative and in control over the others actors – not just her servant, but those in the vision and Pridamant. Her slick hand movements to control the vision were slick and effective. The co-ordination of her hands with the actors’ bodies could have potentially been messy, but were seamless and well-timed with the movement of the actors.
We discover that the son falls passionately in love more than once and always seems to be duelling with a rival for her affection. In the first vision, Armfield was very comical in attempting to woo Melibea (Riana Duce) through her garden wall, assisted by her servant Elicia (Hannah Schembri). In the second vision, Schembri’s Lyse was a more scheming maid who successfully takes her mistress’s fortune. The farcical Matamore (Andy Lake) was funny and amusing in this second vision. The fencing of Armfield and Adraste (Brassell) were well choreographed, with fast movement as they duelled over Isabelle (Duce).
The third vision had a more serious tone than the first two. The son, now called Theogenes, is imprisoned and awaiting death. The claustrophobia of a prison cell was created through the effective use of lighting. I was very impressed with the lighting in the play overall. It was well-paced and helped create tension, such as the flashing lights when Alcandre was manoeuvring Amanuensis violently across the stage. The conclusion of the play after the third vision is very cleverly done as the confusing aspects of the play are revealed.
This adaptation of The Illusion was highly ambitious and well executed. The strong cast, visually striking set design and good choreography of movement effectively achieved a comic and highly entertaining performance of Kushner’s script.