Review: Reptember by The Faction

ReptemberThis year, The Faction have departed from their usual Spring repertory season of large-scale ensemble plays, to produce an extra series, or rather three series, of short, one-person performances, adapted from original classics. On 16th September, I saw one of those sets: The Man with the Flower in his Mouth by Luigi Pirandello, Medea, adapted by Emily Juniper from Euripedes and Metamorphosis, by Faction-regular Gareth Jandrell, from the original Kafka.

The Man with the Flower in his Mouth examines the heightened awareness of a man who knows he has not long to live – the ‘flower’ of the title being a form of skin cancer. Performed with sensitivity by Lachlan McCall, the piece was, nevertheless, lacking the balance of bitter enjoyment that preserves it from being utterly depressing. This was largely due to the panic attacks imposed on the character at intervals during his monologue, which he overcame by performing a physical ritual which echoed his observation of the professional wrapping of Christmas gifts in a store, but which destroyed the sense of wonder he experiences through his enhanced appreciation of his, otherwise mundane, world.

Director, Mark Leipacher, chose to place a video camera across the table from the performer, giving the audience a close-up live feed of the man projected on the back wall, presumably as a replacement for the other character in the original with whom his dialogue takes place. However, this served only to distance the audience from the piece, which was a real shame. It gave us no new perspective, since the camera echoed the angle from which we viewed the live action, and prevented us from fully engaging with the character, since the actor never made eye contact with us, only with the camera.  We were thus forced to watch the action through the barrier of the lens in order to fully engage with him, or remain an arms-length, fourth-wall observer.

Next came Medea, performed by the brillant Sakuntala Ramanee, who employed her stunning vocal range to the full in this dual vision of the last moments of Euripedes’ play from the point of view of Medea herself, and of her wedding dress. Entering in silence from the blackness that followed the previous monologue, dripping wet and leaving watery footprints on the floor, Medea plunged us into her rage and despair at Jason’s betrayal.

It took a little while for us, as an audience, to adjust to the pitch of the piece, after the conversational tone of the previous one, starting, as it did, almost at the zenith of the crescendo; and even longer to realise that the second character in the performance was the dress itself. I would have preferred a more gradual build which took us with it, rather than the onslaught we experienced, and I also wonder how much those of us who were unfamiliar with the story understood. But, despite this, the lighting was dramatically superb, the performance focused and intense, and I hope to see Sakuntala Ramanee join The Faction as a core ensemble member in the future.

After the interval, we were treated to Metamorphosis, directed by the accomplished Rachel Valentine-Smith and performed by Tom Radford, and it was refreshing to see him working outside the often insipid, juvenile ‘hero’ roles to which he is usually confined – one of the necessary evils of being a good-looking, young member of a core ensemble.

This was the most overtly physical of the three pieces – dare I say, the most ‘Faction-like’ – and struck a beautiful balance between comedy and despair, with Radford achieving some truly impressive movements as a giant cockroach, and Valentine-Smith adding some shocking visual moments to punctuate and enhance his performance. Radford moved effortlessly between the quiet, conversational tone of a man recounting his mundane existence as a salesman, and the sudden, stuttering attempts to retain his speech and humanity as the transformation overtook him, fully engaging us in his struggle and demanding our empathy for his plight.

This piece was the high-point of the evening, and it was great to walk out of the auditorium with this memory, although I question whether it wouldn’t have been better to use it as a bridge between the other two pieces, to take us more gently from the realism of The Man with the Flower in his Mouth to the dramatic crescendo of Medea.  But they were all exciting and unusual performances, and a great opportunity to see some interesting interpretations of the classics.  I applaud The Faction for their ambition in expending their style and repertoire, and really wish I had been able to see the other trilogies in the season.

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