“Don’t tell me what’s real, I’ll decide what’s real, is that alright?”
By Tom Barry
In a show in which all the actors play versions of themselves in various different situations, Drama Barn’s ‘Narrative’ brings the internet to the theatre and the theatre to the internet, making it a surreal multi-tab experience. There is promise that it will be meta and weird, and the rest you’ll have to figure out for yourself.
‘Suspension of disbelief’ is a phrase often used with regard to theatre; by crossing that threshold we enter into a bargain with the play and its cast, to forgive the various plot gaps and leaps of logic which provide the potential for a captivating experience. Throughout its two hours, ‘Narrative’ does its best to turn this concept on its head. We are encouraged, even before the play’s true beginning, to see every actor for just that: actors, occupying a stage, wearing name tags of their own names (simultaneously the names of their characters, as they all play themselves).
‘Suspension of disbelief’ is a phrase often used with regard to theatre… Narrative does its best to turn this concept on its head.
It is unlike any other play I’ve seen in its amiable lack of respect for time-honoured pillars of the form, with constant in-jokes and references to the actor’s lives colouring the piece with an indelible inimitability; ‘Narrative’ is a unique show, which manages to be special for being so.
With a minimal set, and no obvious plot, it falls to the actors to retain the audience’s interest throughout, a challenge they all rise to admirably. The entire show has the flavour of an absurdist sketch comedy and adopts a Pythonesque quality as the characters interact; suddenly assuming other more outlandish personalities and back again without warning, and continue as if nothing is out of the ordinary.
As it progresses, it becomes clear that something is controlling the actions of the cast, sending bizarre messages, abstractions or plot twists, in which the actors must then react to accordingly or risk being expelled from the world of the play. There is a greater force controlling their lives of which we are only ever given glimpses, much the same (it is implied) as we are only given glimpses of the forces at work in our own lives, as short and inexplicable as the characters.
Special mention must go to the technical and sound designers, Alex Scott and Ben Young, without whose surreal bouts of ambience, the space would feel sparse and lifeless. In addition, to Anthony Rickman for his highly impressive ‘Footmouse’ sequence, a feat of athleticism of which to be proud.
As its name suggests, ‘Narrative’ is a play that explores what a play (and not to mention a narrative) is and can be, whether in the form of the world’s oldest cave painting or a viral internet video. It’s an idea that could go dreadfully wrong were it not so consistently funny. Whatever you do, do not go in to watch this play expecting to come out having understood everything that happens. Just let the enthusiasm of the ensemble’s performance carry you through what is a supremely weird play.
‘Narrative’ written by Anthony Nielson, is showing at 7:30pm from Friday 29th April – Sunday 1st May at the Drama Barn. Tickets can be purchased on the YUSU website (yusu.org) or at the door.
Photography by Harry Elletson