GLOUCESTERSHIRE DRAMA FESTIVAL 2011
‘Terry Doyle’ by Brenda Read-
Adjudicated by Michael Kaiser of Goda
This new play is a kind of documentary drama as well as a modern morality tale but what makes it interesting theatrically is the way that it is constructed. On one side of the stage we hear the glib, comforting version of a life seemingly very ordinary whilst on the other side there is a strong contrast with the more brutal reality.
The title of the play is significant as it highlights the new name and identity he has to adopt to try and escape his past. The question hovering at the end is whether it will ever go completely away.
It is a piece of social commentary with the focus on an individual case. Therefore, for the play to work we should stop seeing another young tearaway thug and begin to develop sympathy for a person we have come to know something about. If not sympathy, there should at least be a degree of understanding of how the appalling start in life might lead into crime. Could he have avoided the spiral into drugs and crime and prison? It is a topical question, of course.
It is built on a series of short scenes so the transitions should be swift and seamless. Where there are issues of violence or physical activity or strong language, they should be dealt with confidently and full on – no holding back.
The key decision in the staging was to set up the two opposite sides of the stage as the current interview on the right and the flashbacks area on the left and to leave them there permanently, with all the actors in view. This is absolutely right in this style of theatre and in fact it could hardly work in any other way.
On the interview side were two interesting chairs, out of the ordinary, and a small table with a water jug. On the other side was a larger table which could at times represent a domestic or office table and three chairs spaced along the upstage curtain for the actors to wait on between scenes. Hence it was fairly stark and rather stylised but the important feature was what I referred to in answer to a question on Saturday night. All the furniture on the stage toned together and had a lightish colour similarity in the woods used. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money but it does some thought to create a set which is a concept and this was a good example. Well done.
The costumes were modern and varied with Terry and Andy the height of work-
The lighting was also integral to the design with smooth and swift changes from one account of a life to a graphic illustration of the truth. The cross-
All in all, the presentation was skilled and confident, supporting the text in a way that showed the director and company fully understood the requirements of their chosen style of theatre.
The tone to begin with low key and matter of fact as the Andy character sought to reassure Terry that there was nothing sinister in wishing to go over a few facts about his previous interview. The freeze on the left was interesting without being obtrusive as two characters were looking down but the man was staring straight out with an immediate air of danger and harshness written into his features.
As we gradually scrolled through Terry’s life section by section as prompted by Andy on the right, there was one underlying difficulty which ran throughout. The scenes of his life were really quite dynamic and delivered with plenty of physicality and vocal power. The problem was for Andy and Terry to match that even allowing for the fact that there was meant to be a contrast between his story and reality. The scenes with Andy were very fragmentary, sometimes little more than ‘ What happened next?’ It might have been better if those scenes were extended a little to give more chance of character emerging and if either of them was given moves to break away from the seated position. Sometimes there were only a couple of lines of dialogue each so it became somewhat formulaic.
On the other side of the stage, the key decision was to have all the people who influenced him played by one man and one woman. This was an excellent decision and those two actors did a fine job of differentiating the different characters, though possibly one or two of each gender were too heavily stereotyped. The point being made though was that almost every male or female in his life had contributed to the mess he ended up in. The range of accents and mannerisms was a help in bringing a range of characters to life and there was genuine tension and conflict bristling on that side of the stage at times. Two examples that I would tone down a touch are the teacher (’lad’) and the girlfriend.
The interest is largely in the narrative of his life, becoming more and more drawn in. It is not an unusual story but maybe for its increasing normality, that is why it is relevant. It led us successfully into a knowledge of his life and the dilemmas he faces. A strong scene was the one in which he is called ‘Mr. Doyle’ for the first time and the significance of the title is first explained. It is a key moment and it was both forcefully acted and well moved for the maximum impact.
Then we approach the twist in the tale with finally an extended scene for Andy and Terry and the full explanation of Andy’s motivation. There was a change of gear and much more power and confrontation and as much as it achieved, it could have been pushed even further. Build even more before sitting Terry down and saying ‘ Now you listen, here’s my story.’ This is the first chance between the two of them to build some momentum and rhythm so use it to the full. If you can build to a climax, then the already very affecting ending would mean even more. We would all have to simmer down, on stage and off stage, and take a pause before shaking his hand and welcoming him to a new life.
Andy ( Jason Christopher ) He had a serious manner and a soft, reasonable voice to begin with as he explains it is all just routine. There might have been a touch of nerves at the beginning. There needs to be more potential threat at the end when Terry knows who he is and why he might want revenge. The strongest part of this character was in being sincere, especially at the end in welcoming the new person and assuring him he’ll be a good youth worker. “ Good to meet you, Terry Doyle.”
Terry ( Adam Wright ) He seemed thoroughly decent for so long in his half of the interview and held himself very still. The John James part of his life was deeply buried. He did rouse himself to more urgency in the final scene when he thought all was lost but perhaps he could also suggest more of the raw roughness that was once a part of his life. We did see a side of his character which was almost expecting things to go wrong – a sort of fragility.
Woman (Debbie Lannen ) She was very loud and aggressive as the mother, quite shocking in fact as it is meant to be. She seemed as hard as nails and the difficulty of most of the parts she played was that the dialogue comes from nowhere – we are told a brief introduction and then bang, it’s upon us. The young girlfriend had even less time to establish herself so that is why I suggest toning down the facial and physical reactions. The gushing support officer was a complete contrast so well done on versatility.
Man ( Richard Hughes ) This was quite a bravura set of performances also showing a range of characters and emotions from the hardest criminals to the more caring teacher underneath his institutional bark. I lost count of the accents but you tell me there were six. They worked well as a way of colouring a lively bunch of characters. He was one of the most dynamic figure on the stage and contained a real sense of menace when required but the one piece of physical manhandling needs to better delivered.
Young Terry ( Jon Wagstaff ) This was a super performance with great energy, excellent aggression and anger as there has to be in abundance and terrific vocal projection. He had many good scenes but one in particular was in arguing back to Mr. Barber – “I’m on my own now – that’s the way things are.” He had exactly the right rough edge that made you first uneasy with him but then feel sympathy towards him as you got to know him better. He was completely on top of the words so he could hurl himself freely into the dialogue and yet it was a controlled passion without self-
Boy Terry ( Ben Walker ) The voice of the young Terry was pre-
This was thought-
The company understood the style well; the Brechtian method of switching roles, everyone visible on stage feeding in to the emotion, the simple changes of props and costume, all worked very well. The one suggestion I would make is to match up the action on both sides of the stage so that there is more of a balance. Thank you for a challenging production.
Mike Kaiser Goda 19/6/11
© Mike Kaiser 2011