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More Marvelous Misery

Acting Company at Cranleigh Arts, June 2024

 


Another knock-out show from Ezra and his committed recruits, as they produce an evening of extreme focus and high emotions.  In a tradition going back over 15 years, Acting Company aims to challenge the most able students outside the restraints of the A-level syllabus, encouraging greater personal creativity and autonomy as well as a taste of professional experience.  Known for his Swedish froideur, Ezra took a little time off from Chekov and Ibsen to offer us two shows delving into more contemporary human suffering: trauma, bereavement, particularly the loss of a child, and the cycle of deprivation, violence and crime, all seen through a domestic lens.  Not a bundle of laughs, but boy did these youngsters rise to the challenge of such important adult themes: the audience were transfixed, the emotion was palpable.

 


‘Country Music’ by Simon Stephens gave us a four-hander spread over a couple of decades, as we watched Jamie, played by Gabe, struggle with the integrity of his emotions for his girlfriend and for his family, in a world that seemed only to understand gang revenge codes and violence.  In a stripped-back set, Lauren and Naomi powerfully created the poignant vulnerability and confusion of his girlfriend and daughter, alongside the confused emotions of his younger brother, all of it mixed with fear of incipient physical threat.  The standout performance of Gabe held the focus, genuinely inviting an aching sympathy for a violent offender, trying to connect with his real emotions, but only able to fall back on anger.  No patronising platitudes or happy ending here, but certainly a clearer understanding of inescapable contexts and destiny.

 


‘Women of Lockerbie’ also took us on a journey of human understanding, with a larger company this time, equally and impressively talented, and with a moody, misty, mountainous set in which characters moved chaotically in their search for peace in the wake of the terrorist horror of Lockerbie.  The mood here was of collective sorrow seen through the lens of a Greek chorus of local women seeking to lay to rest the ghosts of their appalling experiences.  In doing so they also help the mother and the father who, seven years on from the tragedy, still have no body to bury, so no way to mourn their beloved son who never came home for Christmas.  It is tough meat for such a young company, but the collective skills here carried the powerful themes of the play: that only in addressing loss collectively, trying to see as others see and feel, can we find peace.   Particularly impressive here was the illuminating element of gender between the women and the men.  Women’s domestic labour – cooking and washing as acts of love – was eloquently portrayed by Bella, Clancy and Nadia: a clear nod to the observational Greek chorus, headed up by the steady authority of Olive.  Zaria gave gravitas to women’s seeming collusion within the working world, ultimately rebelling against male authority and choosing emotional solidarity with the women seeking the comfort of a final closure in access to the warehouse full of the shattered remnants of the victims' clothes and possessions.  Caroline gave real trauma and depth to the portrayal of the distraught mother unable to find inner peace or acceptance, until she can see beyond her own grief and recognise the pain of others, including that beneath the surface stoicism of her husband, played with delicate, isolated suffering by Will. In turn, Cohen pulled off an extraordinary performance, a tour de force, as the figure of masculine authority burning with righteous indignation, set on the logical practical task of sweeping away messy emotions along with the material evidence of horror.  His catharsis draws together the emotional journey of both company and audience, as the stage gradually emerged out of the smoky set into clarity.

 


It was an impressive and illuminating night.  When the whole company emerged, the applause was well-earned and most definitely heartfelt.  Many thanks to Ezra (and the brilliant Hurtwood stalwarts, Doug and Al) and his practiced expertise in bringing out strikingly mature performances in such young actors.  Helped ably in direction by Fredi (in between her A level exams) along with Georgina on costumes, Elliot organising publicity, and Szymon on sound design, this was indeed an off-campus professional masterclass in the little cultural gem that is Cranleigh Arts Centre.





Photos by Mark Dean

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