“A compelling story”
Walking out of the auditorium I knew I’d need a decent amount of time to gather my thoughts and be able write this review properly, but even 36 hours on my mind is just as confused as it was then. The reason for this is two-fold: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally is the story of an affair told from the point of view of (and narrated in the first person by) a mobile phone. It’s a fantastic and original concept, but does take a bit of getting used to. Couple that with the fact the role of the narrator (the phone) switches between all five actors on stage at alarming speed and suddenly you find yourself struggling to keep up with who’s who and what’s what.
As a device I can absolutely see the merits of the decision to share the narration – at times it creates great dramatic tension with multiple voices reminiscent of a Greek chorus, while some of the physicality of the group narration is really powerful. However, I don’t think these effects are enough to counter the sense of it all being just a bit too artsy and unnecessarily complicated. For me it would make much more sense to have just one actor as the narrator throughout. Given the concept, I feel this production needs to let it resonate and allow the audience to grasp it properly before trying to add additional layers of complexity.
The same can be said of the styling and direction of the piece. Performed in a stark open space with a few movable white blocks, a huge hole in the middle of the stage and various other stylised props, it seems like the actors are constantly trying to work around or fit into the design, rather than have it support them. Sequences within cars and the tennis match in particular come across as the most forced and restrained. In saying that, some of the physical aspects of the direction (like the lifts) work really well – there just seems to be a jarring between all the different elements going on, adding to the sense of confusion.
Putting all that aside, the absolute star of this show is Kevin Armento’s script. It’s inventive, dramatic and adds wonderful detailing to make the phone really feel like a character with thoughts and emotions of its own – happiest when at home (in its owner’s pocket), and knowing when it needs to be hooked up to its drip (to charge the battery). The plot is well-developed, unfolding the story piece by piece, with tensions arising as each character learns more about what is (or what they believe to be) going on. The final quarter does get a little far-fetched for my liking, but the end manages to work itself out well enough.
As an ensemble piece of theatre, the acting from the cast is very good – the actors blend in and out of narrator and individual character roles, showing great depth and versatility. For me the stand-out performer is Sarah-Jane Casey, who displays great energy and emotional range as Red’s mother, and is captivating to watch throughout.
Overall this is a compelling story presented by a great cast who create some wonderful dramatic moments, I just feel like it needs to go back to the drawing board creatively and adopt a simpler approach.
Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 August)