A director needs not only plot and dialogue to work with but a vision, an intended audience reaction that the play aims to achieve: warmth, laughter, sadness, discomfort, awe, terror. The plot and dialogue have to match this vision. Will Adamsdale matches these things like odd socks. The premise of the play is comedic and the plot runs so much on surreal humour I cannot fully explain it without liberal use of the phrase “it makes sense in context, I promise.” Yet the playwright tries to add a deeper meaning resulting in a confused, unoriginal “take charge of your life” message that was unnecessary and undid all of the cast and production team’s hard work. There’s no shame in simply writing a fun, heart-warming play for an evening’s entertainment and if the play did only that it could be recommended wholeheartedly. Wacky hijinks, a clever resolution, the plot threads tie neatly together, a good time was had by all.
The playwright tries to add a deeper meaning resulting in a confused, unoriginal “take charge of your life” message that was unnecessary and undid all of the cast and production team’s hard work.
Such warm and fuzzy feelings were originally evoked by the bumbling but well-meaning archetype of a protagonist (Guy, played by Robyn Aitchison) the adorable Victorian Mr Elms (John Derrick) and Fortunately Maybe, (Sebastian Romaniuk) whose name is a romcom title in and of itself. The point of Fortunately Maybe’s character is unclear and his arrival is random, but Romaniuk gives easily the most entertaining performance, bouncing off not one but all four of the proverbial walls. One can only imagine how much caffeine is required to sustain such levels of energy.
But then this feelgood factor, bolstered by great comic timing on the part of Aitchison, Derrick, Romaniuk and Ashley Milne (who plays Rob the Builder) is scuppered. Scuppered by the playwright’s desire for deeper meaning, resulting in a play that promises a talking fridge featuring the domestic abuse of a Victorian music hall star. Not only that, the (mercifully offstage) abuse serves no purpose except to make Elms’ love interest a victim and their love story tragic. The adorableness of Elms’ character is not enough to save his backstory from being in poor taste and his love interest from having fewer dimensions than the wall he was found in. There is also more chemistry in the opening strains of Breaking Bad (which is featured in the play) than between Guy and his girlfriend Fi (Chloe Payne). Time spent on these underwhelming relationships is time that could have been spent having fun with a talking fridge. The talking fridge which was criminally underused, especially as said talking fridge was promised on the poster, like it was something important.
The story is still imaginative in its premises and there are plenty of Chekhov’s guns introduced right at the start of the play that result in its climax. The set, which combines a life-size painted floor plan with normal furniture, reflects the surreal nature of Guy’s adventures. The production team made creative choices, such as painting a corner of the stage with a skyline of London and then driving a toy car past it to represent Fi’s arrival by taxi. That was so kitsch, it was glorious.
If you like stories with answers, this is not the play for you.
But if you like stories with answers, this is not the play for you. What happens to Elms? How did he get inside the wall? Is he a ghost? Are the segments of his life flashback or actual time travel? Where did Fortunately Maybe go? Is the fridge actually sentient or is Guy only imagining it talking? What will become of Guy’s career? Why is Rob the builder so unsurprised by Elms’ presence? Is it common in this universe, to find Victorians in your wall? Well, at least we know what becomes of Guy and Fi’s tedious relationship drama, because why else would people want to see a play called The Victorian In The Wall?
A playwright is not always a director’s best friend. The Victorian In The Wall is a 90-minute explanation of how this is the case and why.
The Victorian In The Wall is running in The Drama Barn until Sunday. Tickets available online at yorkdramasoc.com