Roman revival with a restorative touch

Six Characters Looking for an Audience | Young Vic, London
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The Independent Culture

Originally iconoclastic, upending both theatrical tradition and bourgeois morality, Six Characters has ironically had the opposite effect on the Young Vic. This black-brick, modernistic space has never looked quite like this before: high-fronted proscenium stage, velvet swag curtains, chandeliers and, to top it all, gold ballroom chairs for the audience.

Originally iconoclastic, upending both theatrical tradition and bourgeois morality, Six Characters has ironically had the opposite effect on the Young Vic. This black-brick, modernistic space has never looked quite like this before: high-fronted proscenium stage, velvet swag curtains, chandeliers and, to top it all, gold ballroom chairs for the audience.

More Old Vic than Young. But how else do you create the requisite sense of convention overturned? Only a return to cobwebby grandeur will give this classic the correct setting. It's a cunning way to put us in our place before a word is spoken.

Curtain up on a Fifties Rome, where actresses flirt in minks, heels and outrageous hats and even the sub-Fellini director wears a tie. Faced with the tedium of a revival of 'Rules of the Game', this Director launches into a lecture-with-slides on the life of the author. But then, suddenly, his lecture is sliced in two - quite literally - by the arrival of the Characters. And this is only the first coup de theatre in Richard Jones' constantly inventive and startling production.

This may be a play that aims to deflate the theatrical bubble, but Jones unstintingly pulls out all the tricks. Yet, like a magician explaining his own magic, he still bamboozles us, creating suspense even where the dialogue has forewarned us. And, in vital contrast, he ensures a continuous stream of humour to leaven the sometimes wordy expositions on identity. Carrying most of these lectures, and carrying them well, is Stephen Boxer as the Father; like a middle class Ancient Mariner, he is a man determined to constantly revisit his own sins.

Opposite him is the Director, armed with a pugnacious belief in himself. Darrel D'Silva barrels round the stage, head down and bullish. But it is he who loses the bout, finally knocked out by the undeniable truth of the Characters' tale. By the end, the blood is quite literally on his hands.

If, like me, this play has been obliterated for you by too many hectoring student productions, this is an ebullient and unstinting revival which will restore it for you.

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