Pros: An interesting piece on the effect of war on small communities with a distinct style that saw its two actors speaking cleverly in sync.
Cons: The length, 135 minutes no interval, was a big no-no. Forced Entertainment attempt to push the boundaries of theatre however I think there are better ways to do this than with time.
If you can imagine a piece of theatre that is a combination of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, with a dash of The Shining’s Grady twins, then you’re starting to get the feel of Forced Entertainment’s The Notebook.
Set in an unnamed village during WW2, The Notebook follows two twin boys sent to live with their horrible grandmother, a rough and tough woman. The boys are sociopaths; they do not understand the wrongs of lying, of war and blackmail however they are also gentle, passive and pure. You can’t help but feel terribly sorry for these twins despite understanding they’re not ultimately being affected deep down by the actions and words of others. The Notebook is a tale of survival, and it represents the emotional grey scale of human nature, as opposed to the black and white/good versus evil dichotomy taught in history lessons at school.
The play has been adapted from a book by Ágota Kristóf, a Hungarian born in 1935; I haven’t read the text so I am unsure how closely The Notebook resembles the original work. However, Forced Entertainment has stuck closely to Kristóf’s “interest in the pictorial dimension of language”, and the direction by Tim Etchells is clearly inspired by the desire to let the scene be painted by the words. So rather than be led by visual clues the audience is asked to, and has to, think for themselves. One might ask why Forced Entertainment decided to adapt a book so focused on language for the stage, when a huge part of theatre is enjoyed through vision. However there is most certainly room in the theatre industry for connecting with audience members through words alone, and the Battersea Arts Centre is a great place to do it.
Robin Arthur and Richard Lowdon give an intense performance, and though middle-aged (I hope I’m not offending anyone by saying that) they are able to portray the pre-teen boys very well. Never before have I seen two actors so quite in sync with one another; the piece felt truly like one single performance rather than two separate ones.
The set and lighting design were both very simple; two wooden chairs and a relatively clean wash across the stage were all that was required. It was effective and the use of anything else would have seemed inappropriate for such a play as this. The problem however with The Notebook is that it went on for too long and the story had too many narratives thrust into it vying for the audiences’ attention.
I struggled to decide on a number of stars to give this show. I finally settled on three stars due to the strong performances and interesting concepts, however I toyed with the idea of two stars as the piece was just too long – it ran over by 15 minutes. Because of this great length the unique performances were overused, the audience lost concentration, and so much was packed into the 135 minutes that ultimately I lost the meaning of the performance somewhere.
Based on the book by: Ágota Kristóf
Director: Tim Etchells
Producer: Forced Entertainment
Booking Until: The run has now finished.