Directed by Harry Lawrence
Written and devised by the cast and crew
It would be fair to open this review by saying that as much as I love traditional stage craft ‘experimental’ theatre always has me feeling a little out of my depth and sometimes a bit “emperor’s new clothes-y”. Four Doors Down is described as “devised physical theatre’, which meant that when we were offered gratis review tickets I was a little more hesitant than usual to take up the offer.
But more fool me! Last night was a delightful surprise and I really hope that the remaining two nights are full houses for this extremely talented crew and actors. If you can’t be bothered reading the rest of my review I’ll just leave you with this – go and watch it! (and soon – there’s only 2 more shows!). Contemporary dramatic productions are not always accessible – this one is. It’s affordable, relatable, completely accessible for those with mobility issues, and you’ll leave feeling like you’ve seen something “different” but not so different that you’re scared to talk about it with the person next to you in case you expose your ignorance. Buy a ticket now. You won’t regret it.
So, down to the review proper. The set was simple yet incredibly effective. Why the work is called “Four Doors Down” becomes evident from the moment you walk into the theatre. The use of thoughtful lighting made it easy for the audience to both recognise scenes and also helped to build anticipation. The actors had to work hard moving (sometimes multi use) set pieces often, but it didn’t overly disturb the mood of the work, thanks again to good lighting and actors who knew how long to hold their place. Music was thoughtfully woven throughout and did well at adding ambiance and mood in a seemingly sparce environment.
Throughout the work there are several “props” or perhaps the better word would be tools used by the actors to assist in the scenes. In my opinion these were used with varying success. Initially they felt awkward and unnecessary in nearly every scene but as the story developed there were moments where they added greatly to the atmosphere and interpretation. Whether this was down to the skill of the actors (who seemed to make them part of themselves) or my gradual acceptance of these devices I’m not sure. That said, the final scene is made more powerful by their use and it really does tie the whole work together. (Once you’ve viewed it you’ll really appreciate my pun here!)
I was somewhat concerned that ‘devised’ theatre was going to mean there was no script and that the actors would be freestyling (which when done poorly is just painful to watch) but it was clear that the director, cast and crew have instead created a script – and the script was all the more realistic for it. There were moments of utter magic when certain character echoed the voice of my teen self, or the ‘mum-phrases” that just pop out of my mouth when I’m older. It was clear that the actors were speaking from the heart; that these words matter and that they were real. I have a newfound respect for this style and can see, done with skill and purpose, devised theatre is more real, more relatable, than the words placed in the mouths of actors by writers who have not lived the character’s journey.
Physical theatre obviously has a long and varied history. Frankly it’s not my favourite, I’m not a fan of mimes. And this experience hasn’t changed that for me. Whilst there were some magic moments – for example – I adored the ‘making a cup of tea’ sequence embraced by a number of the actors, the pieces that resonated with me less were moments or mime, or other obvious ‘physical theatre’ moments. That said – it wasn’t cringey, and because of this I think it’s an excellent introduction to modern physical theatre for those who have never experienced it before. If you like it, then it would send you on the hunt for more. If you hate it, it’s easily enough overlooked.
Finally, the cast. I’m not one to shine a spotlight (good or bad) on a specific actor. The fact that they’re prepared to get up and share their souls on stage, in my book, makes them all heroes. There’s no denying there’s some more experienced or naturally talented actors who take you on a journey where you’re so immersed in their story that you hang on every word, and others who don’t reach this level. But I did care (quite a lot) about each character. I wanted them to get their happy ending. Many, if not all, at some stage elicited a laugh, a sigh, a tear from me and made me believe. That’s all I ask for in a cast. Make me forget that I’m sitting in a theatre and transport me to the place you’re in, the place you’ve imagined and the cast of Four Doors Down delivered. Bravo!
Four Doors Down is on at the Elmwood Normal School Auditorium 24th – 26th of June. Tickets here.