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Uninvited, New Diorama Theatre

Fat-Git Theatre, adapted from the novella by Peter Mortimer
Directed by Josh Roche
★★★

Pros: Dark, quirky comedy, well acted, smooth and simple design.

Cons: Sometimes hard to follow. Thought provoking, but ultimately unrewarding.

Our Verdict: An equally entertaining and unsettling piece inviting questions about the safety and dangers of solitude, but failing to create a completely connected story line.

Courtesy of Fat-Git Theatre

It’s not an uncommon trope in modern theatre to have actors, like scenery, preset onstage as the audience enters. This invited audiences into the world of the play immediately, to settle into the atmosphere before the action begins. Often pre-shows involve cast-members interacting with audiences, more aware of their viewers than they might be once the show begins. Pre-show set-ups largely continue to maintain the strict dichotomy of audience and performer – the actor should be watched and the audience should be watching, just as is expected during the course of the production. Fat-Git Theatre’s production of Uninvited at the New Diorama Theatre creates a more fluid relationship between audience and players upon entrance.

As soon as you walk through the door, the very walls’ eyes are on you. Three players, identified as the ‘Bouffons’, clad in the pattern of the strips of wallpaper that create the boundaries of the room in which the action occurs, stare at you as you enter and take your seat. They smile, wave, flirt, make faces, and you get the distinctly strange feeling that you are their subject, not they yours.

This theme of voyeurism and being watched is essential throughout the production. It centres around an intrusion into the home of an unnamed man, portrayed by Josh Goulding, who lives alone, and by a regimented schedule, with only his home, and the assured safety of it, for company and comfort. Goulding, unlike audience members, is unaware of the constant intrusion upon his private sphere by the chorus of Bouffons, who move freely throughout the house, commentating on the action and wreaking little havocs. When a stranger (Joe Boylan) appears unannounced in the home, the carefully ordered world of morning tea and microwave dinners on red patterned plates the man has built for himself disintegrates. The audience joins the Bouffons as invisible voyeurs, peering into the downfall of a human being unable to make connections with the outside world.

Despite the nihilistic subject matter, some shining blades of humor pop through the appropriately sickly green and beige color scheme, managing to keep the absurd, sometimes hard-to-follow backstory from overwhelming audiences. The Bouffons are creepy, with their bulging, tumorous green-striped appearances, but are equally charming and goofy, creating a sense of playfulness and absurdity among the bleakness and terror surrounding the man’s experience. Their presence allows physical humor to be a constant factor throughout the production, an element I was grateful for, as the plot’s heavy material might have been hard to swallow without the balance of silliness. Performances by Boylan and Tom Dale as apathetic policemen, and Dale’s reprisal as a window-cleaner were our only glimpses into the everyday world, also contributing to moments of lightness.

Uninvited is simply, but adeptly designed. Sparse props, simple but well-coordinated costumes and minimal hanging strips to indicate walls and curtains, as well as vertical beds, create a sense of incompleteness that contributes to the production’s recurring themes. A team of foley artists created almost all sound and music, allowing a unique and self-contained atmosphere within the venue. Roche’s direction is unobtrusive and fits the small, minimal space well. A fair amount of action occurs on the floor, making it hard to catch all of the nuances of the production when blocked by closer viewers, but for the most part, the play is well planned.

I never grew bored, but admit to being confused throughout. I felt continuously on the edge of my seat waiting for an answer I never truly received. The man’s breakdown among his loneliness and fear of interaction is handled well; Goulding’s performance is captivating, but at the production’s end, I was left wondering why this should matter to me. Elements of his past, primarily centered around a romantic fantasy over which he obsessed, are often referenced, even portrayed in flashback, but their relevance to his breakdown is vague and not properly fleshed out, eliciting a sense of confusion I suspect is beyond the suspension intended by the absurd style.

Overall, the production blossomed in its moments of playfulness and true absurdity, but failed to get under my skin as an examination of a human breakdown. It’s definitely worth seeing at the New Diorama Theatre this week, but don’t expect neat or sensible solutions. Instead, allow yourself to be entertained and perhaps a little disturbed by the feeling you are watching a very private experience, and that your walls are always watching you.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

Uninvited ran at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2012, and has transferred to the New Diorama Theatre for some individual performances, the last of which is on 17th September 2012. 
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