In Luigi Pirandello’s absurdist drama Six Characters in Search of an Author, a stage director is confounded by six strange people who burst in and take over his rehearsal. In 6 Actors in Search of a Director, writer/director Steven Berkoff invites his audience to contemplate the growing anxiety of six actors, waiting interminably for their call on a film shoot somewhere in Eastern Europe.
The set – an anonymous hotel lounge with squashy leather sofas and a chrome coffee table – is empty as the play begins. Offstage, a thunderous voice is heard giving direction, only to abort each scene after a few seconds with an exasperated bellow of “Cut!” Then six actors pile into the room. Evidently bit players, they face an indefinite wait while the director tries to coax a performance from his drunken and temperamental leading lady. While waiting, they fall to discussing (what else?) the Actor’s Life.
Berkoff allows Charles (Philip Voss), a gentleman actor of the old school, a moment of pathos when he is unable to contact his daughter on his primitive mobile phone (though even this is the cue for a little Berkovian rant about iPhones, Skype and so on).
But on the whole his actors are types, rather than fully fleshed personalities. Eve, a slightly over-ripe sexpot (Andree Bernard); Debra, an intense anorexic (Sarah Chamberlain); ingénue Francis (Ruth Everett), and the male characters – the resonantly overweening thesp Brian, played with evident relish by Neil Stuke, and the anxious workhorse Alan (Paul Trussell) – seem expressly devised as carriers for Berkoff’s arguments about the nobility of stage acting, the “holiness” of the stage as a space, and the awfulness of critics who dismiss actors as “luvvies”, whereas, “in fact, the actor is like a soldier”.
Running for 90 minutes without scene changes or interval, the piece is necessarily static (apart from a slightly apologetic mime as Debra delivers an impassioned internal monologue while her colleagues eat their dinner with heartless enthusiasm), but the anticipated sense of claustrophobia doesn’t quite materialise.
Review by Jane Shilling, The Telegraph
Written and directed by: Steven Berkoff. Cast: Neil,Andree Bernard, Sarah Chamberlain, Ruth Everett, Paul Trussel and Philip Voss. Charing Cross Theatre, West End, London 16th May – 23rd June 2012