Unreachable: London Theatrical Tour Part 4 of 6
Unreachable is Unquestionably Funny and Fun
@Royal Court Theatre, London
The first scene is a set-up. Not just of the play we are about to see, but the tone and the way we are messed with and played with by the actors. And I mean that in the best of all possible ways. The first scene is an actress, a brilliant (on so many levels) Tamara Lawrance, who is auditioning for a part in the film, Child of Ashes, a film about a near dystopian future. Destroying us with a heart wrenching scene of a mother and child in a horrific scenario filled with violence and death. We are caught unawares, and thoroughly taken in, and then presto, she snaps out of it, and becomes the actress again, and an actress in need of a toilet. It’s like a hilarious slap in the face, and in many ways, that is the best description one could give Unreachable, the new play by experimental writer and director Anthony Nielson, starring Dr Who’s Matt Smith. It’s about a man in search of his perfect light, as he constantly tries to sabotage himself and his project, and the insanity of his method and the people around him, all in the sake of making a film. Which is sometimes the way one would describe the world of theatre.
Walking in, we had no idea what to expect, and our nerves were sent into a tingle when both the Creative Director of the Royal Court Theatre and Nielson come out on the stage to welcome us to the third night of previews. They also were there to warn us that there had been lots of re-writes and that the actors would be carrying their scripts throughout the production as many of the lines had just been re-written. In many ways it fit quite neatly into what this play is all about, the creative process, and the troubles that come with it.
A wondrous Matt Smith plays an anxiety-riddled film director, Maxim making his second film after a very acclaimed first one. Right by his side is the loyal and accomplished producer, Anastasia (a brilliant Amanda Drew), who will do anything to help him, lead him, and save him from himself. And Smith expertly gives us a Maxim that needs a fair amount of saving. The second scene finds the team, including the camera man, Carl (a wonderful Richard Pyros) in full state of confusion as Maxim has halted production because he ‘can’t find the light’. The endless disruption and stalling causes Anastasia to find more funding, and with that comes the absolutely perfect Genevieve Barr as the deaf financial observer, Eva, sent to watch over how the investor’s money is being sent. Her entry into this triangle is pure magic, and entirely hysterical. There is one scene, that I am assuming was newly written mainly because the scripts were in hand and being utilized, that had both Pyros and Barr barely being able to suppress their own laughter, and this was not the only time during this preview that we felt like we were being treated to something fresh and new, and also something barely containable.
And then in walks the spectacularly funny Jonjo O’Neill playing an actor named Ivan brought on board by Maxim to stall the production again, all because Maxim is still in search of this elusive light. Ivan, nicknamed “the Brute” disrupts everything and everyone around him with his demented rants and unbridled rage, cracking us up with his posturing and his profanity. O’Neill steals every scene he is in singlehandedly, prancing around like an egotistic man-child psychopath in one of the most hilarious performances I have witnessed in years. It is way over the top, causing even the other actors to break into laughter. It was like watching one of those segments from the Carol Burnett Show when Tim Conway could and did crack everyone else up with his improved stories (https://youtu.be/3qqE_WmagjY). O’Neill is on fire, and the rest of the cast tries to keep up with the craziness, and it’s a joy to behold.
The play feels like it’s under construction, and in a constant state of flux (and I mean that as a compliment), much like the film within the play, and with the actors, both real and imaginary, dealing with rewrites and a director that keeps changing things/stalling things. Much like the very inventive stage design of Chloe Lamford, with the constantly moving film equipment pieces and playful visuals. One may ask, how much of that first warning by Nielson, the real writer/director and artistic director is part of the play or just a parallel process that adds to the flavor of the night? I’m not sure, but what a night of theatre it is. And I wouldn’t want to change a thing, unless he can rewrite it and make it better…. Maybe we would be able to find that Unreachable elusive perfect light…