Pros: The unusual setting in a library.
Cons: The large windows facing a busy street can be quite distracting.
For the first and longer play, Reunion, the audience was invited to sit around the coffee shop tables, after being informed – perhaps in light abuse of the word ‘immersive’ – that the performance would happen around them. It is the story of an estranged father who meets his daughter after decades of absence. A war veteran and former alcoholic, Bernie – played by TV celebrity David Schaal – mulls over past mistakes , whilst his daughter Carol (Siu-see Hung) gently points out how these affected her in the long term. The conversation between them is very civilised and only occasionally dented by moments of awkwardness. Their tone is calm; the drama unfolds slowly.
No purpose lighting, nor sound effects are introduced to mellow the stark lighting of the surrounding reading area and the natural noises coming from outside. Although hard to install in a working space, these technical elements would have helped substantially to maintain focus on the performance, whereas I found myself repeatedly distracted by the buzz of Borough High Street, visible through the large windows of the façade.
For the second play, Dark Pony, the organisers guided us to the children’s reading area, where colourful blankets, cushions and bean bags had been previously laid on the floor for us to sit on. Just seven minutes long, the piece feels like a jump back in time from Reunion, with a fatherly figure reading aloud a fable to his daughter. The atmosphere is cosy and the scene quite tender, whilst the father describes the adventures of a young native American and his brave horse.
Both Hung and Schaal are outstanding actors, able to neatly switch their characters from a vignette to the other, despite the minimal change of costumes and props. Curiously, I found that Hung shone more brilliantly in the first piece, whereas Schaal’s skill and voice command received a better highlight in the second one.
By touring this double bill around the capital, Baseless Fabric aim to raise awareness on exciting events happening in local libraries and using theatre as a form of engagement with new audiences. Community-oriented and registered as a charity since 2016, the company couldn’t have chosen a more suitable author for this purpose than the one who once said “My alma mater is the Chicago Public Library. I got what little educational foundation I got in the third-floor reading room, under the tutelage of a Coca-Cola sign”.
Author: David Mamet
Director: Joanna Turner
Producer: Baseless Fabric Theatre
Booking Link: http://www.baselessfabric.co.uk/mamet/
Booking Until: 15 October 2017