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Mandrake, The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre

Machiavelli, adapted by Howard Colyer

Directed by Scott Le Crass
★★
Pros: A fun romp of a story.
Cons: Limited depth of thought in this production. The script is played comically rather than as comedy.
Verdict: Loosely enjoyable but ultimately not very satisfying.
Courtesy of The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
When you enter the auditorium you see clever and elegantly designed dividing frames that suggest the creation of a vast array of locations and, in their sparseness, promise simple but effective theatre. This was not to be the case however. The cast’s movement and interpretation sadly created no sense of 16th Century Florence before us, and throughout the performance I felt that the actors were only ever acting on a stage.
The farce goes like this; Callimaco is not desperately in love with Lucrezia, rather he just desperately wants to congregate with her. As she is the wife of another, he enlists the help of a trickster, mothers, and priests and poisons, as this sexual farce unfolds. Sadly, the characterisation was as limp as the acting. The audience gains little about the character’s motivations and intentions and the monologues in the script seem to be the only character development required. The delightful exception here is Jean Apps playing Lucrezia’s mother. Having enjoyed her performance in Rope, I was curious to see more of her talent. This is one of the things I love about the community feel fostered at The Brockley Jack Studio; the ability to get to know actors and see their breadth across genres and their development over time.
Apps demonstrates an understanding of the context and motivation of her character, and in turn much of my understanding of the world in which this play is situated was credited to the glimpses into it that her performance offers. Actually, it is pretty a fascinating world that is created by Machiavelli. Written in a century where, even in plays, Christian morality prevails and intentions are pure, this is a genuinely interesting tale of lust and deceit. A tale where love and virtue are corrupted for personal gain and other people’s desires are ignored, Mandrake exposes Machiavelli’s the bleak outlook of the human world. The play could be a conduit for exploring the bigger question of whether virtue is manmade or preordained as, like all great comedies, it is a veil for exploring deeper issues in a digestible manner. However, unfortunately it seems that comedy is all that writer Howard Colyer and director Scott Le Crass have seen in this play.
Without delving into the characters nothing deeper can be accomplished and this adaptation was played for laughs by making each character ludicrous and ridiculous, but not that specific farce-like manner that is required. This isn’t a bad decision in itself but there were problems too with comic elements such as timing, which disappointed me.
Added to my disappointed was the look of the production. Of course, good production design doesn’t have to mean a high budget and indeed some of the best art is created from very limited means. With this in mind, I felt that the costumes could have been still simpler than they were but instead the attempts to dress the characters with ill-fitting hires drew my attention again to the ‘play’ aspect of the performance. Every time I saw an artificial boot-top my skin itched. What I wished to see was a production coherent with the elegant, symbolic dividing frames of the set. This play has the potential to do justice to the original script, but does not work with the skill of the actors to provoke the audience’s imagination so that we see hundreds of years into another culture, another country and find recognisable human beings.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!
Mandrake runs at The Jack Studio until Saturday 15th June 2013.
Book on 0844 8700 887 or online at http://www.ticketsource.co.uk/brockleyjackstudio/

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