"The Balcony" by Jean Genet through comings and goings of a brothel during a civil war toys with the interplay of status and power between humans. Less concerned with the actual act of sex, the focus lies more with the roles played out by the prostitutes and their clients; both in the role-playing games of the brothel and also in the characters' everyday lives.
My first impression of ULU Drama Society's production was that the set was immensely funky. The action took place within a semi-circle of mirrors which not only looked very good but also suited the themes of the play which centres around the human obsession with self-image, our desire for role models and our desire to become those role models. Inevitably, the hollowness and lack of power associated with filling such role models are exposed and on an even deeper level (philosophical or political - whichever tickles your fancy) it questions authority and reality - is there a discernable difference between watching a good actress (as that's what Genet's prostitutes are) dressed in full Regalia in a brothel and a real Queen going through the same motions in a Palace?
The cast were committed and energetic and maintained their focus flawlessly. I particularly enjoyed the performances given by Sasha Taylor (Carmen), Zoe Hajifanis (Roger) and Johanna Thomas-Corr (Arrnand). I did feel however that the almost continual melodramatic tone made the play quite hard work to follow and on more than one occasion I felt that lines were made much less effective through being overplayed. More frequent changes in the pace and tone of the play would have helped make this wonderfully rich text more palatable and additional subtle moments would have given the melodramatic moments greater impact, as well as adding some dramatic effect in their own right.
The brave choice to have an all female cast was one that the cast tackled admirably with some impressive results and it complimented the play's side theme of gender roles in society. The nominally female and male characters certainly have notably differing roles but the balance of status and power frequently flips between them throughout the play. The single gender cast somewhat reflecting Genet's partiality for all male casts, actually seems to question society's stereotypes and give the message that differences in individual personalities are more significant than the gender differences.
Finally I'd like to comment that all too often video projections are used in modern theatre simply for the sake of it. However the continual backdrop of modern day city life in this production was appropriate and gave the play a relevance and realistic feel that wouldn't have otherwise been there. It made a positive contribution to what was a perceptive production of a beautiful and deeply meaningful play.