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Live! - Culture

Black Comedy and Ruffian on the Stair

Dec 03 2005 13:57
Ruth Davies
Live! goes to see the first night of Dramsoc?s autumn term play, a double bill of Black Comedy by Peter Schaffer and Ruffian on the Stair by Joe Orton.
Left : Ruffian on the stair & Right: Black Comedy

Black Comedy, first performed in 1965 is a one act farce set in a South Kensington flat in an electrical blackout. It is written to be staged with a reversed lighting scheme. This means that the play opens on a dark stage, the audience can hear the actors speaking and moving around but cannot see them. A few minutes into the show ?a fuse blows?, the stage lights come up and the audience can see the characters, stumbling round, apparently unable to see anything. The lighting is therefore very important in this play; when a character lights a match the stage lights dim, when a character has a torch the lights dim further and so on. These important lighting effects were brought off well and to great effect by the Lighting Designer and Lighting Operator, James Dicken and Harry Tabner respectively.

The story revolves around Brindsley Miller (played by Ricky Stanton), a sculptor, who is facing a horrendous evening; not only is he expecting a visit from a millionaire collector who has expressed an interest in his work, but also his fianc?e?s father is coming to inspect him. For the occasion (and at the instigation of his fianc?e, Carol Melkett (Annabel Schleh)) he has illicitly borrowed his antique dealing neighbour?s furniture. Following the blown fuse the farce begins?

This production (directed by Brooke Milburn) was very fun to watch. The characters? attempts to find one another in the dark (which to the audience is perfectly light) are amusing to watch, with Brindsley at one point recognising his mistress, Clea (Lilly Topham) who arrives in the chaos of everything, by feel. Brindsley?s attempts to return the furniture in the dark after his neighbour, Harold Gorringe (Alex Arbuthnot), returns early are highly comic.

There was some excellent comic acting from all the actors, Alex Arbuthnot in particular delivered Harold?s highly camp lines with great flair and Annabel Schleh perfectly captured the empty headed silliness of debutante Carol Melkett. Radha Gadhok also performed well as Brindsley?s other neighbour; the elderly and teetotal Miss Furnival who becomes rather more raucous after accidentally being given someone else?s alcoholic drink in the dark. It was a shame that the audience was so small on the opening night when this reporter went to see the play as the comedy of this play really requires the atmosphere created by a laughing audience.

The only criticism from this reporter would be the dissimilarity between Schuppanzigh (Jean-Michel Lourier) the German ?migr? electrician and Bamberg (Alessandro Magnani) the millionaire?s voices. These characters are supposed to be mistaken for each other in the dark and it was therefore a shame that their voices were plainly different. This may however have been intentional, playing up to that traditional British vice, the belief that all foreigners are the same.

The play explores many serious themes, not the least the idea that traits that people keep hidden are revealed in the dark; Brindsley turns out to be coward, Carol to be selfish, Miss Furnival has alcoholic tendencies and so on. However, the play is perfectly enjoyable as a farce with the serous themes hidden beneath the frippery.

After a rather long interval, the second play began. Ruffian on the Stair, first broadcast on BBC radio in 1964, was Joe Orton?s first play. It was written whilst he was in prison and marks the beginning of his literary success. The play tells the story of Joyce (Brooke Milburn), a former prostitute, who is trying to move on from her former life in a quasi-marital relationship with Irish ex-boxer, Mike (Harry Woolley). She is blissfully unaware of his present occupation as a hit man is therefore shaken and confused when a young man, Wilson (Amadeus Stevenson), forces his way into their council flat and shows her that Mike?s hands are not as clean as she would like to believe.

The play focuses on themes of loneliness and desperation and although there are odd moments of humour, this production (directed by Neil Monteiro) really veered towards the darkness in the script.

Brook Milburn, after a slightly wooden start, really portrayed Joyce?s loneliness and fear with some excellent acting and a very convincing soliloquy. The star of the show for me, however, was Harry Woolley as Mike. He was unceasingly believable and kept up a good Irish accent.

The difficult role of Wilson is crucial to the play and whilst Amadeus Stevenson gave a good performance, at times he seemed to allow his speeches to loose their meaning, almost letting Wilson become comic, which didn't sit well within the overall feel of the production.

Despite this, the play worked well and was very intense, pulling the audience in to the sordid and bleak lives of these characters and all three actors and the director are to be congratulated for bringing off such a difficult play with so much success.

Black Comedy and Ruffian on the Stair are running until Saturday 3rd December, 7.30 in the Union Concert Hall. To reserve tickets go to Dramsoc?s website .

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