Es gehts [by Matt Baker]
Selecting a graduation/showcase production for an acting/industry institution is not aneasy task. Numbers aside, gender and the suitability of sensibilities can be a difficult jigsaw to manage. Director Ben Henson has chosen wisely by gifting The Actor’s Program 2014 class with Arthur Meek’s Sheep, which has been adequately expanded to its full cast size. Henson’s tweaking of Meeks’ 2011 text provides its episodic narrative with a sense of cyclical completion, but there is only so much that can be done with a script that does not equal more than the sum of its parts.
With a focus on Anglo-Germanic relationships, it’s a shame that the accent of the latter is unsuccessful, specifically with the men. Leonardo Afon’s Eastern European origins explain, though no more justify, his Slavic pronunciation, though his earnestness does not trump his lack of listening. Fortunately, Zöe Robins anchors him with an emotionally full and ironically suitable screen performance.
Daniel Watterson’s prior experience in addressing an audience is evident, and, perhaps because of this, his best work is when he serves his fellow actors. Andrew Craik’s accent is as non-existent as his actions, and, although Mary McCormick finds a balance between the two men, the disjointed pace of their scene does not support the forced emotionality.
Lyndon Katene’s lack of musicality and faux anger result in unconvincing and monotonal dialogue, and awkward outer actions, while Andrew Parker plays Gavin at an intellectual level that seems to reflect the dimensions of his performance more than the character.
Things pick up in Dresden where Craik is able to engage in his scene, and Jared James and Mary Rinaldi play the extremity of their stakes with complete commitment to their highly dramatic given circumstances.
Geordie Holibar capitalises on his youth with an endearing performance that avoids pushing sentimentality on the audience and focuses on the purpose of the role. Brianna Cox starts well with her monologue, but can afford to take it further with the depth to which is hinted in her capability, while Simone Walker gives an excellently measured performance, allowing her character to be seen through her actions.
The show takes a while to gain traction and even with Henson’s aforementioned adjustment it doesn’t actually take the audience on a journey regardless of its timeline. Fortunately, Henson’s use of Watterson and McCormick throughout the piece provides an emotional quality to encompass the play. John Parker’s set design and Jessie McCall’s videography fill the width and height of the Q Loft, with Frank Checkett’s set pieces using depth to provide a sense of time and materials for transition. Thomas Press’ sound design accentuates the varied tone and jarring narrative, while Charlie Baptist’s costume design clearly identifies the eras and character classes.
The use of the hoiho is a beautiful and authentic touch, but the script does not compound on this or any other symbolic or allegorical content. This results in some scenes being extensions rather than expansions, leaving performers such as Chloe Elmore, Jennifer Dando, Crystelle L’Aime, and Rebekkah Farrell to simply serve the aimless text without having anything else to play and consequently demonstrate their talent. This incompleteness and vignette structure is both a blessing and a curse, as it provides the opportunity to showcase these emerging and well-cast actors in short, egocentric bursts, but does not necessarily the material to do so. The cast list is somehow complexly both over and underwritten, and, perhaps in addition to their myriad classes, The Actors’ Program needs another in writing programme bios, although, with the limited experience of institutional graduates, the point is moot.
Sheep is presented by The Actors’ Program and plays at Q Loft until November 29. For details see iTicket.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview review by Nik Smythe