Pros: Spectacular performances to accompany this bare and honest writing.
Cons: Often ruined by sounds from outside and around the theatre. Not the most comfortable of viewing if you’re sensitive to the smell of smoke.
If for you, like me, Buster Keaton is another name in the Hollywood dictionary and Orson Welles is a well-known figure in the movie industry, this production will take you somewhere you certainly wish had happened.
As a heads up, without having read the synopsis and the information provided at the beginning of the play, there would have been a few inside jokes and anecdotes throughout that I may not have understood. So, if you’re knowledge on these men isn’t totally up to scratch, a bit of pre-performance-preparation could benefit your enjoyment of this production. Having said that, Mike Carter’s writing is not difficult to thoroughly enjoy regardless.
This story takes us through a completely fictional conversation, in a very probable situation. Buster Keaton, an actor, director, producer, writer and stunt performer, notorious for his deadpan expression, and Orson Welles, an actor and director well established for his work in theatre, both volunteer at The Hollywood canteen. The Hollywood Canteen was set up in 1942 to provide free food and entertainment for uniformed servicemen.
Keaton and Welles’ meeting here was inevitable, but never confirmed. Welles takes us on Keaton’s journey of commercial fame and personal battles. It explores what Welles would like to do to make Keaton the man he used to be. Buster Keaton, The Great Stone Face, clearly loved what he did and what he was doing it for, but that all became overturned by the interference of money and corporate greed. The themes in this play are actually very relatable, and in many ways parallel to what today’s society is seeing in the Arts sectors. How many companies are ruined by larger industrial corporations taking over for commercial purposes rather than reaching out to those who believe in it the most and letting them enjoy it. It exposes what the arts have been facing for generations.
Anthony Cozens performance of Buster Keaton was very special. A down-beat, exhausted character who’s life used to revolve around entertaining everyone else. Cozens performance indicated at the harsh reality that those who make us laugh the most are often the ones who are slowly rotting away inside. His superb portrayal of Keaton allowed us to go through the motions with this character. From his personal life to his professional sphere the audience watch him trying to hold it all together.
Partnered with John Paul Conway’s performance of Orson Welles, these two made an excellent team. Conway gave us everything we wanted from Welles. His admiration towards Keaton, his desperation to keep producing, the ignorance and arrogance this man has for everyone around him whilst trying to get into the soul of Keaton. Conway showed us Welles’ passion for wanting to depict Keaton’s life, be it for personal gain or Keaton’s deserved recognition.
The use of central space in the theatre meant that the sound travelled well and at times, maybe too well. We all know the feeling of people coming into the theatre late, but with such a small venue, this disrupted the performance one too many times. Outside noise from the café and box office also contributed. This was a shame for the actors on stage trying to build a relationship with the audience. An authentic set, visual aids of Keaton’s work projected on a sheet and warm mixed lighting aided in the wonderful telling of this story.
Overall, this is a special production which needs to be seen by a wider audience.
Author: Mike Carter
Director: Guleraana Mir
Producer: Oddservants Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 7517 7799
Booking Link: https://space.org.uk/event/buster-keaton-at-the-hollywood-canteen-as-told-by-orson-welles/
Booking Until: This show has now closed. Please check the Oddservants Theatre Company website for information on future productions.