“Awash with lots of individually interesting ensemble moments and devices.”
Hatters is an intriguing piece of ensemble theatre. It follows the story of Robert, a hapless member of the Bright Young Things in 1930s London, and his attempts to navigate a minefield of sinister characters and mistaken identities in order to marry his fiancé.
Loosely inspired the Evelyn Waugh novel Vile Bodies, the company devised the production around the novel’s key dramatic moments and characters. Keeping very much in theme with the “modernist” style adopted by Waugh in his book, a more experimental approach is used by the company in its presentation of society in the run up to World War 2.
It’s a very physical production, which at times hinders the narrative of the piece as the actors often parade around from scene to scene embodying furniture, cars and general London street scenes. This makes it quite difficult for the audience to know what’s going on. In fact, the show opens with all nine actors stood in a circle facing inwards, and one by one they appear to suffer some sort of epileptic fit before ending in a pile on the floor. By the end of the performance we still had no idea what relevance this had to everything else, and moments like this unfortunately detracted from what was actually a very interesting exploration of modernist theatrical storytelling.
In saying that, in many of the physical sections the action was accompanied by human soundscaping, which worked particularly well in creating atmosphere, and was executed with just the right level of depth and detail. In some cases though, a subtler approach could have been more effective and less jarring to the main action, which was on the whole, very well executed.
As a devised work, facilitated by the passionate Sibylla Archdale Kalid, Hatters is awash with lots of individually interesting ensemble moments and devices. One good example of this was the tea party scene, where actors swapped character with each other many times, but managed to maintain continuity and clarity of action and dialogue. Indeed, the cast’s overall approach to and execution of characterisation, aided by different hats to help identify them, was a real strength of the show.
However, the fragmented style and seeming need to cram in everything that had been devised for fear of wasting it did end up being a bit overkill. With so many different devices and styles used, the piece lacked some consistency. It would have been more effective to see more themes running throughout the performance, rather than something new adopted for every new scene.
The production was certainly not without its laughing moments. Comic timing was very good throughout, as was delivery of some of the witty one-liners worked into the script. My particular favourite was uttered by Robert’s fiancé, just after he’d had to sell her to pay off his debts: “These feelings don’t just go away when you’re sold!” Something about the pure innocence in the delivery had the whole audience in stitches.
Overall, this was a courageous and admirable effort, with a lot of potential to be expanded and developed over time. It’s just not quite there yet.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 3 April)