Six Actors in Search of a Director, written and directed by Stephen Berkoff, Charing Cross Theatre, London, 06.06.12
The irony is almost too much when a play entitled Six Actors in Search of a Director leaves you feeling that its writer should have searched harder for a director. This wouldn’t have been difficult given that Stephen Berkoff has decided to direct his own new work. In it, six supporting actors wait… and wait… in a generic hotel lobby for their call to start shooting a film scene. It begins intriguingly enough – the stage is unoccupied as a scene is being shot offstage, from where we hear the pompous, perfectionist director bellowing orders and we feel a surging pity for whoever has to work with him. He must yell “CUT!” more than a dozen times before the actors finally appear on stage to relax after this tedious shoot. From here on, the six actors do their best to add life to characters that, though plausible, are of the mass-produced stock: an older English gent, a no-nonsense workaholic, an egotistical cynic, a slightly over-the-hill lush and two young idealistic women, one excited and eager, the other self-effacing and thinks the stage is “holy”. The characters are distinct but we learn barely anything about them because they talk about barely anything other than acting for the next hour. The actors excelled in moments when their characters were play-acting, doing accents and impressions and it is a real shame that the writing did not allow for more of these thespian acrobatics.
The naturalistic set and lighting work well: the cream social space is reasonably classy and comfortable but so impersonal that it communicates effectively the lack of glamour in the profession. Large windows depict a snowy outdoors though this location is clearly left unidentified as a further signifier of the actors’ monotonous existence, but it simply leaves the audience nothing to latch onto.
Berkoff heightens the audiences’ expectations by naming his play after Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of a Director, a metatheatrical masterpiece from 1921 that raises questions about the illusory world of theatre; sadly, no new ground is explored here. Some interesting observations on the differences between theatre and film and on the relationships between supporting actors, stars and directors are made and the dialogue is realistically modern, but unrealistic in its myopic focus. This script defines navel-gazing.