Friday, August 08, 2008

Six Characters in Search of an Author. Chichester. August 2008.

I've never seen the original Six Characters in Search of an Author, but from what I'd picked up in the little I'd heard of it I had thought of it as a play about the excessive artifice of the theatre at the time it was written. So it was no surprise to see the Six Characters story re-framed in the context of television drama documentary, an equally questionable artifice making claims to truth.

What I hadn't appreciated was the extra layers within the Six Characters story itself, which was left largely intact in this otherwise very different production. Changing the framing device made very little difference to this, although it provided a modern context for the more timeless themes of identity and sense making in everyday life that the main story explores. It also provided a sort of a light relief to the more serious themes that most certainly are developed, even amongst the occasionally ludicrous goings on of the Six Characters drama.

I don't believe that this production is about the state of TV drama documentary any more than the original was about the state of contemporary theatre and so while I found the frame appropriate and amusing what I was really interested in was the Six Characters story.

At the beginning it seems that the Father is the character who is determined to have the truth, as he sees it, told and we might think that he has dragged the other five along. However, he has a surprisingly strong opponent in his apparantly abused Step-Daughter who is at least equally determined that her version of events will be the one to see the light of day. It is said that she has been the one most active in trying to provoke the original author to complete his story. The Mother admits that she is unable to match the Father's eloquence but in several interjections she makes it clear that she has her own perspective that she is unable to articulate. The Son's angry silence and occasional outbursts of denial suggest his account would be different again, although he would rather it all remained private!

This leaves the battle over truth to be fought out between the Father and Step-Daughter and I wonder if, in this age of moral panic over paedophiles, we fail to see this as the equally matched power struggle that it really is. The Father's attempts to present himself as someone trying to do his best and suffering agonies of guilt and shame at his failure are ridiculed by the Step-Daughter who then blames her own moral failings entirely on him. However she takes such great delight in tormenting him it is not easy to see her as a victim.

Has he mistreated his wife and abused his step-daughter? Or have they manipulated his weaknesses?

Towards the end the Father turns on the new Author and questions her claim to reality, suggesting that characters in a story have a greater claim to coherence and lasting identity than those who exist in the fluid, changable real world where each person has to attempt to carve out their own role in competition with others doing the same for themselves, and where there there is no author to impose order. Which is, of course, exactly what we have just seen happen!

In this production I was particularly impressed with Ian McDiarmid's ability to portray the Father in a way that avoids demonising the character while still having something of the diabolical about him.