Home » D21, Going Out, Theatre

Well Worth the Visit

Posted on 8th February 2010. No Comment

Email This Comment Email This Comment

Lyndsey Fineran enjoys a little black comedy at HCTC’s prodcution of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s ‘The Visit’, 4th – 6th February 2010

“I can be best understood if one grasps grotesqueness”, wrote Durrenmatt of his theatrical style. True to this encapsulation, his 1956 tragicomedy, ‘The Visit,’ depends heavily on its interpretation. At once fairytale, parable, satire and farce, with a basis in realism yet moving into areas of the grotesque and the absurd, ‘The Visit’ is a play which demands a lot from its audience.

Indeed, it was this dependence on audience response that the Hill College Theatre Company’s Assembly Rooms’ production of the play relied upon for its success; depending on its watcher to appreciate both the comic within the tragic, the absurd within the real and ultimately; the hilarity within the horror.

Gaunt’s unflinching composure and almost brazen confidence proved particularly unnerving

‘The Visit’ presents a provincial, no-hope town about to undergo a ruthless invasion from its past. A town once the centre of an impressive culture, the play opens on a  community sunken into debt, despair and desolation, awaiting the return of its only hope – a former town member turned-millionaire; Claire Zachanassian. Seeking revenge for an old injustice from her youth when her lover’s denial of paternity to her unplanned pregnancy resulted in her being forced out of the town in shame, Zachanassian returns, offering financial rescue on the condition that they kill Alfred Ill, the true father to her child and the one responsible for her ostracism all those years ago. 

A figure once at the mercy of others’ decisions, prejudices and rationality, yet now the one holding the power, Caroline Gaunt’s portrayal of Zachanassian proved both powerful and complex. Her rigid stature and icy, unshakeable poise created a chillingly imposing presence while showing a similarly impressive handling of the more tender elements the portrayal necessitated. Gaunt’s unflinching composure and almost brazen confidence proved particularly unnerving in the grotesque prelude to Act 2’s opening when wheeled on to the stage in a wedding dress merely to watch the audience during the interval’s close.

the play perhaps suffered from remaining as loyal as it did to such a pace

 Left isolated and at the mercy of his fellow citizens’ myopic and all-consuming desire for wealth, Tom Thorp offered an empathetic performance as the downtrodden Alfred, a self-confessed ‘broken down shopkeeper in a broken down town’ and an newfound outcast himself.

A show ultimately with its roots in realism, the play is written in a slow, resigned manner – an effect intended to reflect the slow pace of town life during its gradual ruin and decline into moral degradation. While exhibiting an understandable commitment to Durrenmatt’s intentions, the play perhaps suffered from remaining as loyal as it did to such a pace. This was particularly noticeable in Act 2, when the mounting pressure against Alfred is intended to push the play towards its tragic climatic conclusion yet the pace remained somewhat languid; lessening the tension and unfortunately proving detrimental to the impact of the play’s otherwise impressive ending.  

scenes had been subject to meticulous directorial attention

Aside from this issue of pace, the production had few other faults. While a couple of shaky early opening lines and some clumsy first movements were noticeable, these were soon ironed out and an impressive cast dynamic was established. Indeed, the cast members were comfortably in sync with one another and managed to achieve a nuanced performance that exhibited both strong group awareness and impressive character idiosyncrasies. 

This really is testament to both the cast itself and the production’s directorial effort. It was evident that scenes had been subject to meticulous directorial attention with both careful body language and facial expressions exhibiting an impressive amount of character work in both their detail and intricacies.

Special mention must go to Sam Watkinson and Charlie Cussons whose animated portrayals of the Mayor and Policeman respectively were both comedic and detailed. Certain characters more minor in role must also be commended: Gareth Davies for one gave a wonderful performance as the forceful reporter whilst Beth Greenwood and Persephone Barda worked well together as Koby and Loby, the castrated and blind duo, succeeding in creating a simultaneously comedic and grotesque presence.

 A word must also be said for the thoughtful costume touches and subtle set changes; a torn blazer, a string for a belt, a lacklustre attempt at a Mayor’s chain and partly imagined set items served as subtle reminders for the town’s impoverished state and proved a cogent point of comparison to its gradual move into aspired prosperity. Comic touches meanwhile, such as the passing of coffins and other funeral components for Alfred’s intended death maintained the black humour well and supported director Rob Henderson’s claim that “if you’re not laughing, you’re probably taking it too seriously.”

 A masterpiece of misanthropy, HCTC’s presentation of ‘The Visit’ offered a macabre and darkly entertaining parable about the corrupting influence of money and the worrying capability of human action. A pertinent nightmare, the production posed provoking questions about honour, loyalty and human weakness yet above all managed to remain light enough to ensure that even at its darkest or most grotesque, a laugh was always possible – even if you felt guilty about doing so.

Comments are closed.