My last two evenings have been spent watching two very different shows. Each is entirely worthy of your time and interest, and I urge you to see them if you can.
Both are very small casts (three men in the first, three women and a man in the second). One is very down-to-earth and identifiable, gentle, 'feel-good'; the other is strange, curious, fascinating and unusual.
The other thing they have in common is that very little either happens or is resolved. I was reminded strongly (and read in the programme of one that the director had made the same observation) of Waiting for Godot, where in the final moments of the play, the characters continue to take as little action as they've done throughout the evening.
You may love or hate either of them (as plays) for a multitude of reasons, but they are both very special.
On Wednesday I saw Heroes, by Gérald Sibleyras and translated by Tom Stoppard, at the Sewell Barn. This small theatre is beautifully appropriate to detailed shows, with the 'goldfish-bowl' effect of the audience being raised above the performers. The set was beautiful and pleasing on the eye; the fourth member of the cast was skillfully created (go and see it to find out more!). Each of the three actors has an acutely-developed sense of comic timing; superb stagecraft; and a well-developed understanding of the relationship between the three old men.
If pushed to explain the appeal of Heroes, I'd say that it was the British love of creations such as Last of the Summer Wine. Very little happens in those episodes either, and certainly nothing of importance; but the antics, thoughts, wonderings and gentle humour of Foggy, Clegg and Compo earned the love of the British public and retained it for many, many years. This is the delight of Heroes: we have detail, some history, some background, some interaction, some relationship dynamic; but in the end, the piece observes, and does so with delightful humour and sensitive respect for its subjects.
Heroes has three performances remaining: tonight (Friday 26th), and two performances tomorrow. Visit the website for more information, and call Jarrolds for tickets on 01603 697248.
On Thursday it was the turn of the Maddermarket Theatre, and New Electric Ballroom by Enda Walsh. This extraordinary, strange, disturbing creation was a revelation to me. The limited, enclosed world of the sisters who never leave their home, and who continually re-enact a heartbreaking tale of their youth, bewilders and challenges; but once the audience has tuned in to the thought processes of the women, the show takes on a lyrical intensity that I found extraordinarily powerful and affecting.
Further comparisons: I've mentioned Waiting for Godot, but this show also owed a great deal to Under Milk Wood, with its bizarre, extraordinary population; situations that are identifiable but at the same time alien; language that flows like an unstoppable tide, drawing us deeper into the immovable world that the sisters have created for themselves. I also was reminded of elements of James Joyce's Ulysses, with its deluge of language that creates its own powerful effects in a highly un-naturalistic way.
The four performers here did a stunning job. Their characters were focused, consistent, troubling, tragic and at times hilarious. The deep heartbreak of Patsy's final speeches was, to me, unutterably painful; the superb timing and integrity exhibited by all of the actors was a masterclass.
New Electric Ballroom plays each night until Saturday 3rd August (except Sunday); visit the website to book tickets online, or call the box office on 01603 620917.
What strikes me about both shows is that they were created with a strong vision and complete professionalism. If I had to, I would say that I was more fascinated and stimulated by the Ballroom, but more amused by Heroes; but I took away a huge sense of delight in the skills of our local performers and directors in both cases, and am extremely pleased that I got to see them both.
As I said at the start, you may love or loathe either or both; but if you don't go and find out for yourself, you'll never know, will you?