views from the gods

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Acting Exercise
Etcetera Theatre
8th August 2016


Publicity image for Acting Exercise

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Well, I've seen some very short productions at the Camden Fringe before, but normally that's due to unintentionally running under. Acting Exercise is different in that not only is it very fleeting, it's deliberately so. It's a one-act play taken from Peter Barnes' collection Corpsing which can be staged in its own right, as has been done here or in conjunction with the other three mini-plays. If you're trying to see so many shows in so little time, Acting Exercise is certainly one that won't command a whole chunk of your diary - you could even fit it into a late lunch if you work in Camden.

Rowan (David King) is rehearsing a play when Mr Willet (Joe Staton) interrupts, demanding that Rowan gives him back his wife. He's convinced that Rowan is having an affair with his beloved Muriel and determined to chase off the competition. Having felt unconvinced by his own earlier performance, Rowan turns to Mr Willet and the play continues one of two ways. Either Rowan is practising a new role to which he can better relate, or he is telling the truth. Is this an actor acting an actor acting, or an actor acting an actor doing? If a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, is this a good production? Ah, questions. For such a short piece, it manages to raise raises several.

Director Jon Campbell keeps a reasonable amount of ambiguity in this two-hander, with Staton curiously the actor whose voice seems more affected - out of the duo, we expect Rowan to be the character who's lying if anyone is, however Staton sounds like he's putting on a bit of a stage voice. There's a slight artificiality in the delivery. Whether or not this is deliberate, it adds another intriguing layer of confusion. Watching this play in action, it becomes apparent it's an actor's dream - the tone could be different in each performance and it would still work. Indeed, if this was being staged over a longer run, it would be interesting to see the two men mix it up on different days.

Barnes' script is peppered with lots of idioms and it feels like it should be performed quicker and more energetically like a traditional farce. Whilst this version retains a nice mystery to it, it feels like Campbell could and yet doesn't tease out Barnes' humour strongly enough. It's engaging - well, I guess it would be hard to lose an audience given the brevity - but I wouldn't necessarily peg the whole shebang as a comedy and therein lies the weakness.

Acting Exercise marks King's return to stage following illness, however at only 15 minutes straight through, it's tantalisingly short. If this is him dipping his toe in the water, the message is dive in next time and give us more. Although we don't see enough to be able to fully sing his praises (another idiom, see what we did there?) we certainly see enough potential to suggest a full length play should be on the cards next time. A very short but sweet vignette.

Acting Exercise opened on 8th August and runs until 9th August 2016 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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