Anderman

Tue 1st – Sat 5th November 2011

reviews

Charlie Brookhouse

at 01:00 on 2nd Nov 2011

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Set in a university and featuring discussion of seminars and tutors, Anderman is eerily close to Cambridge. Joseph Anderman is a student of music and a gifted and precocious poet and composer too. For various reasons, the pressure is on for him to produce a musical masterpiece that will give him a sort of immortality by proxy. He sets to work on an opera about the Orpheus myth.

The play is performed in Christ’s College, where roughly 380 years ago Milton himself was a student. He subsequently wrote ‘Lycidas’, a poem lamenting the death of a friend that also makes recourse to the Orpheus myth. As to whether director and writer Jamie Patton intended this kind of dissolution of the fourth wall, I don’t know. Either way it points up the kind of metadramatic burden that Anderman struggles to bear.

Harry Sheehan grew into the role of the troubled and tragic figure of Joseph. His performance was confidant and refined. It would have been easy to realize the young composer as wholly supercilious and patronizing. But Sheenhan rather rendered Anderman as a character gradually coming to terms not only with the frailties of his body, but also the desperately inhibiting short-comings of his friends and mentors. Will Morland and Julian Mack had been tasked with playing the difficult roles of those marginalized by the prodigy’s success. Cocooned in his large tweed jacket, Charles did seem a bit of a caricature of himself. Julian Mack cut a fairly good version of a student desperately aware of how his maturation had paralleled that of his friend and yet had yielded nothing.

Things come to a head in Act II when Joseph interrupts the praying of Deborah, his girlfriend Julia’s sister. Deborah has come to the university to rescue her sibling from infatuation with the temperamental composer. Finally Tom, Joseph’s best friend, arrives and soon all three become aware of the jealousies, insecurities and imperceptions that have pushed the already unstable Julia to breaking point. All the stifled objections, awkward silences and anxious movements find their release here. And this is a good thing. Julia’s perpetual shuffling back and forward and Tom’s clenched fists were starting to get irritating by the end of the first act.

Anderman is an ambitious play about an ambitious individual that, like its protagonist, just misses the mark. Some extremely intelligent symbolism and blocking do much to highlight what is best in this probing script. Perhaps more could have been made of the similarities and contrasts between Julia’s mental instability and Joseph’s creative mania. Julia just becomes this nagging figure whose sorry disposition is progressively difficult to empathise with. Clare Healey could not have done much more with the character. It was hard also to know how far Patton wanted the play to question the significance of Anderman’s over-determination of Julia as muse figure. There is a lingering question as to whether Anderman is a misunderstood genius or misunderstood to be a genius too.

Patton’s play overreaches itself but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it. It’s full of ideas and benefits from acute dramatic tensions by virtue of complex interactions between speech, music and silence. It would be a tragedy if, like Orpheus, it passed unnoticed.

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