|"Crackling with energy and passion"|
by Avril Silk for remotegoat on 05/09/12
All An Act, by Sean Michael Welch, is outstanding. This intelligent, passionate and challenging two-hander from Depot Theatre examines forensically the layers of truth and lies between friends, lovers, men and women, raising difficult questions with integrity and power. Afterwards, my companion and I could not stop talking about it, and were honoured to meet Kathleen O'Neal, who played Petunia, the circus clown. Her full-on performance was brilliant and compelling. Petunia, crackling with energy and anger, popping pills like candy, is devastated by the consequences of an ill-advised one night stand with her fellow clown and lifelong friend Merkin, played by Adam Petherbridge, Merkin, drinking and screwing his way through life, with an easy charm and a nice line in self-deprecation, is bewildered and panicked by Petunia's dissection of their relationship following their sexual encounter. Adam's performance was as powerful as Kathleen's. They were riveting.
Exploring the huge questions about life and death, love and hate, whilst preparing to perform in a three ring circus, disguised by make-up and clown costumes, is a powerful metaphor. In between our arrival from who knows where and our departure to ditto, we humans find ourselves jostled by miracles, mundanity, comedy, tragedy and the wonder and craziness of our fellow travellers. One minute dancing along the high-wire; the next terrified witless in the lion's den; the next falling over our own feet.
Director Melody Erfani ensured that the clowning was authentic. Sometimes Petunia and Merkin made us laugh raucously. They also reduced us to profound silence - and to do that wearing, respectively, a lime green tutu over pink spotty knickers, and rainbow-striped baggy trousers whilst riding a miniature tricycle, is remarkable.
All An Act leaves the audience with two questions - one of which is, 'Will the friendship between Petunia and Merkin survive sex?' It is a tribute to excellent writing, first-class direction and blistering performances that we find ourselves caring and hoping. I won't reveal the other question. I will say that I saw myself as a young woman in Kathleen O'Neal's performance. As a mother, and (at present|) honorary grandmother, my perspectives have changed with the years, but it is vital to me to keep faith with my younger self even if I would now counsel different choices. I would love to know if older men in the audience were similarly affected by Adam's portrayal of a charming, careless young man.
Exeter's Bike Shed is a gem of a venue - intimate, welcoming, stimulating, courageous. I'm delighted there was a large audience for All An Act. To see such fine work, all the way from New York, is a privilege. It was costly for the company to bring this stunning work to England. If you would like to help them financially, their website tells you how.
You can catch All An Act on Wednesday, September 5th at the Bike Shed. Strong language, strong subject matter and strong performances combine to produce an event that is disturbing, thought-provoking and exceptional. Bring on the Clowns.
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