A rehearsed reading of an new stage adaptation by Simon Startin of the acclaimed novel by Nicholson Baker. The original book explores the thoughts of a young office worker as he travels the escalator to the mezzanine of the office building where he employed during his lunch break.
I respect Simon Startin’s work. I’ve always enjoyed watching him as a performer and his work with Tottering Bipeds was excellent. So I wanted to come and see this. The writing is very strong and funny. I was delighted to see the return of Liam O’Carroll in the cast alongside Tim Gebbels. They are both visually impaired actors whose work I know well.
During the play we find out about the thoughts and memories of the character via three voices representing him at the ages of 24, 32 and 57. The stories jump from character to character quick and quirky; obsessive, compulsive and repetitive. The breaking of shoelaces breaking on two consecutive days and the desire to remember where a plastic bag comes from …. these events are part of a series of bizarre memories explored in relationship to his encounters with others. It was hilarious and humane. But it took me quite some time to get into the style and the rhythm of the piece and to be able to follow the jumping voices.
On stage we have a simple set of three men sitting at a table. In the right hand corner another man sits reading part of the script into a microphone. There was also a SLI.
The language of the piece is descriptive and detailed and Simon is making some kind of comment on description in theatre. It was good to have the rehearsal access in view, particularly hearing the cue man feeding Liam lines adding a fourth voice to the layers of repetitive language.
However, given that this presentation was partly and in some ways implicitly a comment on accessing visually impaired actors in theatre, I was very disappointed and frustrated at times that there had been no attempt to include some form of creative audio description on the stage. I know that they were restricted in time to put this together, but they could have done something and it would have added another layer. (In the Q&A section I asked Simon why AD hadn’t been included. He said it came down to cost)
Had the action in the play just been three actors sitting in chairs reading the script there would have been no need for audio description. However, this piece had shape and movement. Some of that was incidental and other bits far more purposeful. So we needed to know what this action was! I’m not usually particularly interested in literal description but on this occasion that style might well have worked.
I appreciate the budgetary restraints of putting pieces of work together, so it was a fair decision to involve a sighted cast member in this work, given the need to consider access and health and safety. He was good. But I hope when Simon does develop this piece that he will consider using a fully visually impaired cast - someone like Gerard McDermot would make a great contribution.