Thursday 18 May 2017

Int. - Theatre Review

What: Int.
When: 15 - 19 May 2017
Where: The Owl and Cat Theatre
Devised by: Carolyn Dawes and Thomas Ian Doyle
Directed by: Toby Price
Performed by: Carolyn Dawes

Carolyn Dawes
Int. is the intriguing physical theatre piece which opened at The Owl and Cat Theatre in Richmond this week. It has a much shorter run than expected, having opened a week late, but it is one of the most artistically complete works presented there so far.

Using the symbology of the characters created over the career of movie icon Bette Davis, Dawes explores the mania and futility of trying to measure up to what society wants in a woman. Caught on a treadmill of makeup, clothes, and accessories which are meant to illuminate a woman, instead each layer hides the real person underneath until she is no longer visible even to herself.

There are references to many of Davis' movies, including the red dress which is iconic across her films - most particularly Jezebel. It is the movie All About Eve which holds it all together though.

In All About Eve Davis plays an aging actress who is befriended by a young starlet. In order to stay relevant Margo (Davis) plays roles far younger than her actual self until she finds herself overtaken by her protege, Eve (Anne Baxter). Eventually Margo gives in to the inevitable fading of her light and the movie ends with us watching the cycle begin again as another young starlet befriends Eve.

The real tragedy of this tale is not Margo's story at all. In fact, her graceful (?) defeat makes her ending a positive one. A defining speech in the movie is the one about what it takes to be a woman. "Sooner or later we've got to work it out...In the last analysis nothing's any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed and there he is." Yes, Margo is talking about a woman needing a man, but she is also talking about a clear eyed, unpretentious understanding of real life, real values, real contentment.

The real tragedy of All About Eve is Eve's story. She can be any women and she is every woman and she is the epitome of the treadmill we are all on. The film ends with Eve beginning the torment and takeover she enacted upon Margo to get where she is now. The circle of life has a whole new meaning.

Why am I going on about this? Because the journey Dawes takes us on mirrors the rise and fall of Margo Channing, albeit not in a literal sense.

Dawes is a woman caught on a treadmill of waking up and hearing self talk and society talk which influences how she presents herself to the world. Each morning is an agony of indecision and degradation which, with each iteration wears her down mentally and physically.

Int. is a physical theatre piece, but is of an intriguing style which is not dance nor mime, but rather an unspoken form of acting. The detail required to make this form work is phenomenal and Dawes is up to it - from the most minute pulse of the finger tip to the declining fervour of participation as each iteration proceeds. You literally see her soul being crushed as more and more layers go on.

Although this is physical theatre there is text, but it is mostly overdubbed self talk and abuse. It is a clever mash up of excerpts in Bette Davis' voice which guides Dawes through her tortuous journey to awakening. More subtle references to the continually recurring motif of red dresses in the star's filmography and the constant relationship with mirrors is genius.

The only problem I had with the show is that the idea is too small. It has evidently been padded in the second half and to be honest it feels like Dawes and everybody else in the room are just marking time to get us to the requisite 50 minute mark which makes it a full show.

There is a belief amongst the acting community that anything an actor does will be fascinating for an audience as long as it is done with commitment. This is just not true.

We watch Dawes pack up the room which has become strewn with clothing, bags, jewelry, shoes, etc and there is no question at all that every item Dawes touches she has evidently imbued with a memory or a connection but we the audience have no insight into what that is, so it is hard to care. I can't say I have ever wanted to sit back and watch someone tidy their room. This becomes even more tedious because a lot of the clothing isn't even used in the first half of the show so we have no connections to make so I just became more and more disconnected and, let's face it, bored.

I also wish Price had been brave enough to have Dawes playing the mirror to the audience. By angling her to the corner we were let off the hook as she processed the slow destruction of her identity under the weight of wigs and wishes.

Once you get through all this though, Int. has a delightful ending. Dawes finds herself again and settles in to an evening of hot tea and old movies, and the last moment allow us to enjoy Davis as her finest, allowing us to commune with memories as well as modernity. In the words of Davis "Slow curtain. The End."

The anti-climax of the show is perfection and the bravery of ending this way is to be lauded. I, myself, toyed with the question of the anti-climax as a theatrical device last year and was warned it wouldn't work. They were wrong. It is beautiful and uplifting when handled with grace and flair as has been done in Int.

3.5 Stars

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