Pirandello Classic Wreaks Havoc At The Barbican

By Sam Smith Last edited 39 months ago
Pirandello Classic Wreaks Havoc At The Barbican ★★★★☆ 4

Show must go on. Pandemonium breaks out while rehearsing a Pirandello play © JL Fernandez

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Six Characters In Search Of An Author, described as an absurdist metatheatrical play, is one of Italian Luigi Pirandello’s most famous works. On its premiere in 1921 it received cries of ‘Manicomio’ (madhouse) and ‘Incommensurabile’ (incommensurable), but in the hands of Paris-based Théâtre de la Ville (which also brought Eugène Ionesco's surreal Rhinocéros to London in 2013) many of the commentaries and subtexts become easy to grasp. This is no mean feat when the work is so thematically rich and ambiguous, and when the performance style employed is thankfully not geared towards spoon-feeding us every important point.

In the piece a director and his actors set about rehearsing a Pirandello play when six characters suddenly appear. They explain that the playwright who created them did not finish their stories, and so they are searching for a new author to do so to prevent them from hanging in limbo. After they describe their lives up until the point of their abandonment the director agrees to take on the task. All sorts of complications arise, however, when the characters lock horns with the actors attempting to portray them, and seemingly spin off their axels so that we are left wondering if we are still witnessing a rehearsal or indeed fiction at all.

In the process we receive many insights into playwriting, directing and the philosophy of theatre. When it is suggested that the actors are failing to grasp these peoples’ lives and needs, the question is raised as to what rights fictitious characters have. We are constantly told that fiction, though less real, can be more true than life (and vice versa), but the need to create something of interest to an audience seems to be at odds with the aim of doing justice to the people portrayed. The counterargument, however, is that when theatre creates a piece with a harmonious balance it does so by tempering the egos of characters who all believe that their own tragedy is the only one worthy of attention.

For a work that is all about the theatre, there is a great emphasis upon the verbal rather than visual as the numerous complex arguments are advanced predominantly through dialogue (this performance is in French with English surtitles). With excellent lighting and effective staging, however, Théâtre de la Ville makes the evening engaging all round, and the use of shadow at the end is especially moving. From among the strong cast, the performances of Alain Libolt as the Director and Hugues Quester and Valérie Dashwood as the characters of the Father and Stepdaughter stand out.

Until 7 February at the Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS starting at 19.45. Tickets (£16 - £38): 020 7638 8891 or visit the Barbican Theatre website.

Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 05 February 2015