Bailey Theatre Company’s latest endeavour, Fin du Siècle, is nothing if not ambitious. Fraser Logue and his cast and crew must be commended for taking on such a challenge, as performing 5 unrelated one-act plays back to back seems a particularly bold first show of the year for a theatre company. The performance was very varied from script to script, but good fun and well performed throughout.
The first of five plays, Anton Chekhov’s The Proposal provided a well-rounded and genuinely funny start to the evening. Richard Dyer led the piece very well, his believable awkwardness at first and range of emotion throughout bringing his character to life. His impressive and consistent use of physical and slapstick comedy, if at times seemingly overdone, had the audience very amused throughout. Dan Hunt also proved to be very droll and did a good job of commanding the scene as the oldest of the 3 characters, although his portrayal of age occasionally slipped. Issey Pistor performed was admirable in conveying great emotions and creating a third realistic character, but she would perhaps benefit from taking more time with her lines and including more pauses in speech.
The second play, Gabby, Nee Gabrielle by Astrid Sundberg-Laporte was an entirely different affair to the first. There were very few moments throughout the piece where I felt I knew what was going on in this undeniably unusual script. From the strange repeated and seemingly unchoreographed dance, to the odd silent scenes of the titular Gabrielle drawing childish bits of art, I was thoroughly confused with the plot. The actors themselves however dealt commendably with an incredibly challenging piece, particularly Kishore Thiagarajan and Naomi Solomons as Gabrielle and her brother Eric. The rest of the cast performed well, but perhaps struggled to quite match their action and emotion to the heightened surrealist nature of the play.
Indeed, Monsieur Badin, Georges Courteline’s short, snappy French sketch about lazy civil servants proved to be an amusing and well done comedic piece. All three cast members involved created and played their characters very well, and the strong chemistry between them had the audience entertained throughout. Fraser Logue as the eponymous Badin was wonderfully melodramatic and amusing throughout, although his nervous babbling occasionally overshadowed other actors. Dan Carr competently anchored the scene with authority and decorum as the put-upon director and Dyer’s energetic (if repetitive) entrances brought a lot of the life to the performance. I would however recommend for the future that accents are only used if everybody is using them, as the decision to have Badin speaking with a French accent whilst nobody else did felt a little jarring at times.
The traditional Hungarian performance, Erno Ernobol, was another slightly confusing tale speaking of the nature and build-up of cities in Eastern Europe. The large cast must be praised again for bringing a difficult and unusual text to life, particularly Joseph Pape as one of two eponymous Ernos, who was endearingly childlike, both amusing and interesting to watch throughout. Again though, the script itself was unusual, whether it was the characters addressing a strange, silent offstage character or the two foreign language classes teaching the audience Hungarian vocabulary, Erno Ernobol was an odd experience.
The final piece, The Wedding, a second Chekhov proved a light-hearted and amusing ensemble piece. Shannon Burke gave a fantastic performance and kept the play moving throughout and Jessie Smith as her mother gave perhaps the strongest performance of the night. Smith was consistently entertaining, funny and varied in her performance and emotion and should be commended both in this and the previous play. Sian Round also dealt well with playing a 72 year old man, and made the most she could of her entry, bringing an amusing burst of energy to the performance. There were however odd points in the final performance. Andy Anderson’s accent was unfortunately thoroughly distracting, and actors on stage who are not speaking should take care not to overact or fool around as it distracts from the focus of the piece and is unfair on those speaking.
The production elements of Fin Du Siècle were on the whole a little strange. Leech Hall is unfortunately not the easiest of venues to work in with things like paintings and a fire alarm taking away from any set or atmosphere created on the stage. Throughout the second half with the cast using the exterior door as an entrance the room was thoroughly freezing. Across the board, there were many things that felt somewhat clumsy and distracted for the action. Costume, for example, was unusual throughout. The decision to have some characters in costumes (which were often odd, such as an aspiring mathematician wearing a policeman’s hat) but other characters in entirely their own clothes, including Durham stash, proved to be confusing and unusual. Set as well was an issue with incredibly long scene changes between plays, particularly before the final performance. In the space I would perhaps advise having cast help more with scene changes or opting for a more minimal set. The use of props was at times silly, most notably Finding Dory toys as food and cardboard boxes with words written on them. It would perhaps be best, and less distracting, to source props or mime actions as it somewhat took away from the performance. However, many strong elements of production – the lighting was consistently strong and on cue, and the decision to use live music created a lovely moment.
On the whole, the actors and crew of BTC’s first production of the year have dealt very well with an incredibly ambitious and challenging piece of theatre. Yes, there were some small issues in performance and production, but the actors were generally strong, the audience and cast thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and the whole team should be commended for making Fin Du Siècle a success.