Amateur Dramatics can be a bit of a mixed bag. There’s usually no doubting the enthusiasm of those involved, but sometimes willingness is eclipsed by lack of natural talent or training. No such worries in this production – the young performers of Odd Dog Theatre Company more than meet the acting skills expected by this unforgiving critic, and in some cases far exceed them.
Simply staged on the black box stage of the Tabard (are we not calling it Chiswick Playhouse anymore? If not, that was a very brief re-brand) Unreachable concerns a film shoot under the tyrannical artistic control of auteur writer/director Maxim (George King) – who recently won the Palme D’Or, no less – and is on a quest to find the perfect lighting state for his latest post-apocalyptic masterpiece. Not content with insisting on switching from digital to film stock halfway through, there are no lengths Maxim won’t go to in pursuit of this mythical light. Or feeling of a concept of light, as he describes his fantastical holy grail.
Around Maxim’s gigantic ego orbit put-upon Director of Photography Carl (Oliver Bales) spouting a nice line in nonsensical proverbs (sample: “A man with no head has no love of hats”), flinty producer Anastasia (Isabelle Ivy Dunn), brilliant but determinedly unempathetic lead actress Natasha (Julia Green) and Eva (Sam Allison), a spy for the financiers whose uninvited presence disgusts Maxim.
Anthony Neilson’s 2016 play, originally at the Royal Court with Matt Smith as Maxim, is a fabulously light-footed farce played hysterically straight but touching on many genuine archetypes of the creative industries. Self-absorbed personalities rub pretentious shoulders with less deluded individuals to delightful effect, and the midpoint casting of notorious Ivan “The Brute” (Darcy Streamer) sends an already buoyant ensemble dizzyingly into the stratosphere – though the immediate effect on poor Carl is to bring him out in hives.
George King’s direction is impeccable, drawing maximum humour from the absurd characters without trivialising them, and staging some complicated encounters in ways that intelligently explores the complexity of human relations in a highly artificial environment. A sex scene between two characters – believably, there’s no shortage of ill-advised relationships within the company – is realised with riotous skill, and when Maxim puts Natasha through her acting paces it’s both a brilliant showcase for Green’s considerable skills and also a poignant comment on the superficiality of aspects of the creative enterprise.
At one point there’s a low-tech but ingenious lighting effect: at first when some electric tea-lights are clumsily tossed onstage it raises a laugh, but as they accumulate they achieve a wonderful change of atmosphere and prove to be a brilliant touch. It’s a bit of a miracle, which is a description which could be applied to much of this tremendously engaging production.
If forced to mention niggles I’d say that the gag about everyone being startled whenever somebody else comes on stage didn’t work for me and grew stale quickly, and I’m not sure the plot’s late swerve into tragedy is earned. But this is a triumphantly successful production of a rich and satisfying play. Everyone involved has done the sometimes maligned reputation of AmDram proud.
Written by: Anthony Neilson
Directed by: George King
Produced by: Amateur Production in Association with JT Management Ltd
Unreachable plays at Theatre At The Tabard until 22 July. Further information and bookings can be found here.