Try! Try! (and other plays)

Mon 19th November 2012

reviews

Martin McGuigan

at 10:54 on 20th Nov 2012

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The performance gained a reaction that I barely expected: laughing at poetry. Frank O' Hara's vignettes are made of real poetry, not pedestrian naturalist dialogue or sentimentalist cliché – proper poetry. This itself can be extremely difficult to act, but the three-hand crew carried it off without a hitch. The first play (Try! Try!) is an amusing love triangle between the absent soldier, his usurper, and the girl in the middle. It is here that O' Hara's complex poetry comes to life in performance. In between the snarling and snide quips that fly back and forth from Jack Parlett to Matilda Wnek, the non sequiturs and bizarre imagistic turns of phrase in each monologue, there is somehow a comedy. This is the really surprising and beautiful thing about this performance: the actors' delivery is so spot-on as to command a laugh one minute and rapt silence the next. Each joke contains its own stopping power that hits you with the laugh first and the poetry after. In this play most of all, Dominic Biddle's acting is superb. Even as a latecomer to the scene, he steals it. His delivery is stress- and tone-perfect. At the end of the first and longest play, the applause was so long the audience refused to allow the cast to introduce the next segment.

The next play continues the hilarity as Parlett and Biddle piece together a night out and conduct flirty business down the phone. Their non sequiturs and throwaway punchlines are highlighted by the fragmentation of the scene, where one conversation stops to make way for the other. Here we find out about the kinds of words O' Hara puts in people's mouths – not the kind of simulated real conversation with some poignant lines shoved in at just the right moment, but the things that real people could not say, conversations twisted beyond resemblance to the real world. Only the actors' ability to pace the scenes flawlessly allows the silliness of the comedy to work.

The struggle between silliness and keeping a straight face continues. The most serious of the vignettes tells of a boy's love condemned by a jealous mother and encouraged by wizened father, with masks on. Whether the idea of playing a straight, serious scene with masks on was supposed to be funny or not, it did steer the scene away from being glib. Here, Wnek is understated and nuanced, proving that she can carry off male roles just as convincingly as the other characters she plays.

The final play is a strange dream of a transatlantic flight, accompanied by Biddle on the ukelele (his brief song in this scene is hilarious). Some of the dialogue was in this scene was in French, and thus, lost on me. But I detected some greater laughs from the francophones and was greatly impressed by Parlett. Even when forced to act in another language, his intonation and facial expressions are imbued with acuity.

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