Showcasing the less glamorous moments in the world of showbusiness, Tony Award-winner Christopher Durang’s The Actor’s Nightmare is a bold but inaccessible new production.
The Actor’s Nightmare is a collection of six plays, examining different aspects of the ‘darker side’ of showbusiness, cleverly interwoven together. Over the course of 105 minutes, we meet actors, comedians, playwrights, stage managers, talent agents, Hollywood producers and even an accountant. They play very different roles in the theatre, but their experience is shared: showbusiness is far more complex and exasperating than the final production would suggest.
It’s a bold idea and not one that The Actor’s Nightmare always pulls off. As with any collection of plays, some are stronger than others. A satirical reworking of Medea was popular amongst the audience on press night, while a tragically desperately unfunny comedian is something nobody really wants to see, even if that’s the whole point.
It all comes together in the titular piece, an actor’s worst nightmare played out on stage. George (the excellent Stefan Menaul) thinks he is an accountant, yet he learns he will be playing the lead role in an unknown show due to the incapacity of the show’s much-loved star. George’s nightmare cycles through all the tropes, including being stuck in his underwear, not knowing the play he’s performing (which sometimes changes abruptly mid-scene), and being left alone to perform a soliloquy he doesn’t know on stage.
This is probably the highlight of The Actor’s Nightmare. It is funny and powerful in how easy it is to relate to George’s predicament. Other pieces are not quite as accessible, because The Actor’s Nightmare requires far more than a minor interest in theatre to enjoy. Audiences must have knowledge of entertainment stereotypes and classic shows, including Medea, Hamlet and Streetcar. This is to make sense of a whole host of jokes, many of which are not quite as hysterical as that level of insider knowledge demands.
Sadly it is limiting theatre. There are no attempts made to explain the many in-jokes and references to those unacquainted with the world of theatre. I sincerely doubt it will encourage anybody to investigate further, though clearly this is not the point.
The Actor’s Nightmare has some very funny moments. This is mostly due to the stellar work of its cast, who excel in delivering the clunky caricatures. Meaghan Martin is a hysterical Hollywood producer, and is just as effective as a tragic comedian (whether or not the latter is something one wants to see). Layo-Christina Akinlude gets plenty of laughs as a ridiculous talent agent as well as the self-centred Blanche DuBois. Adrian Richards’ turn as an exasperated playwright is inspired, while Kate Sumpter delivers some of the bulkiest moments of the show with a stylish confidence. Meanwhile, Stefan Menaul’s starring moment comes late in the play, but is definitely the most memorable.
It is a show that attempts to say a lot about theatre without once saying anything profound. It is very much insider comedy, with its use of stereotypes and theatre references aplenty. A solid cast carry it throughout, although there is little here for the average theatregoer – the one who doesn’t really know much about Greek tragedies – to engage with.
By Susan Brett
The Actor’s Nightmare will continue to play at the Park Theatre until the 10th August.