Pros: Some accomplished acting and beautiful well-written prose.
Cons: Too much brooding self-reflection means the play is lacking in meaty action and dramatic thrust.
The Trunk starts dramatically enough – the carefully calibrated ecosystem of a Russian town is plunged into disarray by the disappearance of one gentleman. Where has he gone? He’s decided to lock himself in a trunk. Why? It is unclear, but the effects are obvious. The well-worn routine of the town begins to crumble, pleasantries are done away with, and people begin to descend into a pit of pained self-reflective navel gazing.
The play consists almost entirely of a series of “dialogues” between town folk and the enigmatic trunk man. The conversations are naturally one-sided (one interlocutor is entombed and silent you see). Indeed, soon the trunk man’s silence becomes all-consuming, it spurs the town folk into wretched bouts of introspection. Driven on by a vast noiseless void that needs to be filled they muse and reflect on their lives, and in doing so undo their carefully manicured world of habit and custom.
Each of the five principal characters – the servant, the porter, the doctor, the governess and the bag lady – are well acted. It is a strong cast. Special credit should go to Tamarin McGinley for her emphatic portrayal of a homeless woman – “the bag lady” – who dwells in the sweet irrealism of nostalgia, unable to cope with the harsh realities of present times. And the script is strong too. Mike Carter’s Chekhov inspired writing is at times both beautiful and incisive. He lays bare the tragic frailty of the human condition with a certain pithy sharpness and dry comic wit.
However, the play is too novelistic. It is full of self-reflection, choice words and poetic musings, but no dramatic thrust. There is no action, no dialogue, no drama – the vitals of theatre are missing. The actors speak rarely to each other; instead they converse with a silent trunk, reflecting only on times past.
When going to the theatre one expects, or hopes at least, to experience first-hand the variety of life played out on stage, to see kisses, fights, arguments and embraces. A play lacking all of this, offering only angsty, albeit beautiful, introspection, misses the clear advantage of the stage – the ability to enact in flesh and blood the passions of life in front of a real audience.
It is telling that the most forceful parts of the play come towards the end when the actors begin to talk to one another rather than the silent trunk. The scenes between the cowardly doctor and the stoic governess are most enjoyable to watch – the “will they won’t they” tension of the would-be couple captivated me in a way that the more philosophical, brooding and self-examining parts of the play did not.
It is a shame that such dramatic scenes are few and far between. But it is also telling of the chief pitfall of The Trunk – with the risk of sounding like a celebrity gossip columnist: more drama please!