Prague Fringe 2016
Tooth+Nail’s performance of a play within a play is as beautiful as it is creative. It takes the audience on an adventure and utilises visually striking lighting effects (and title cards!) to great effect in order to remind us of the 1920s setting.
Shortly after the war, a young man returns home, switches on the radio and nostalgically examines some old photographs he has in his pocket. As his mind flits back to the past, childhood friends re-appear onstage, and together they come up a wild tale full of adventure in which they star as the main characters.
This visually striking piece by Tooth+Nail takes place mostly in darkness, the players illuminated by an array of lighting effects produced by tiny flashlights that often (successfully!) re-create the feeling of black-and-white era nostalgia. Although there is some dialogue, some of the most entertaining and ingenuous moments occur when we instead receive intertitles succinctly informing us – à la silent era – about dialogue we cannot hear or words that we cannot see written down.
The four characters are all clearly defined, and the occasional repetition of their mannerisms makes them stick in our heads: The boy-faced Theo, clearly meant to be the youngest in the group, says very little, but his giddiness over the idea of crocodiles is positively contagious; Ollie loves the limelight and has the wild gestures one would expect from an opera singer; Eddie, the tallest of the lot, plays an evil count; and Constance, the lone rose among the thorns, is a serial fainter.
It is not necessary to follow the plot of the play within a play that the group of friends put on, even though it takes up the lion’s share of the performance, because the audience’s enjoyment derives from the range of creativity they reveal in the process. From seeing Constance as both the prow of a ship and Rose Dawson standing on it, her arms outstretched, to the emergence of Frankenstein’s monster to Ollie shooting from a fighter plane or skiing down a mountain slope, all without any props to speak of, elicits both joy and astonishment from the viewer. These moments have little in common other than their place in the adventure yarn dreamt up and acted out by the four friends.
Although pretending to be an unbridled adventure staged by children to pass the time, the production’s understated bookends of the Second World War, as well as its more Gothic aspects, inject an unexpected measure of emotion into the material that will ensure the play stays fresh in the minds of the audience.