Review: Lily Bevan’s The People of the Town, John Gielgud theatre, RADA

David Dawson as Antoine

David Dawson as Antoine

As we were leaving RADA after seeing Lily Bevan’s The People of the Town, my friend asked me whether I had done exercises like the ones in the play when I was taking acting lessons. The play, an acting workshop under the obsessive eye of a famous avant guard french director, finds its natural home in the RADA building, but it never feels as narrow focused as the description suggests. As I told my friend, I thought everyone had taken acting lessons at one time or another. And if they hadn’t they should. Because the  exercises might be silly, but once you commit to them with the seriousness only silliness deserves, new worlds open up. Like with this play.

Two unemployed actors, a french director, his assistant, a set designer with child care issues and a workshop. What starts as a group of people, conflicted, conflicting and furiously funny, turns into a surreal dream where one liners become more than the sum of their parts. The quality of the performances combined with a bold and sharp playtext results in a playful evening with touching revealing undertones.

David Dawson, who can suggest explosive emotions with the tiniest of movements, is the french director whose brilliance – or is it foolishness? – can only be matched by his selfishness. Jolyon Coy has a rare tender quality that drives the more affecting part of the story and James Rastall and Cassie Layton, deers in the headlights and fighters in an unselfconscious way, give lovely sharp performances.

Props and set have the vivid quality of a playpen, and the play moves from hysterically funny to tender, hopeful and a little bit desperate without losing control or focus.

In the end, hedgehogs hold the key: “Hedgehog. Hedgehog. Who is he, or she? Or rather, what?”. It makes far more sense than you would ever imagine.

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