The Cocktail Party by T.S. Eliot at The Print Room

It’s been quite a while since we have seen anything at The Print Room and indeed nothing since they moved into their new venue, the old Coronet cinema. Tennessee Williams’ ‘Kingdom of Earth’ and Brian Friel’s ‘Molly Sweeny’ at their old Westbourne Grove venue were really incredible, so we were expecting good things in this bigger, more historic venue. A bigger space poses its own problems – it needs a larger audience and requires more building maintenance. Such things though, shouldn’t really be a problem if they continue to show good theatre.

Abbey Wright’s production of T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Cocktail Party’ fell below our expectations. A couple seem to have come to a turning point in their relationship when the wife walks out on the eve of a cocktail party. With the husband covering for her absence he tells an unidentified guest that he is better off without her.  The unidentified guest however, manages to change the husband’s mind so that the husband cannot stop thinking about wanting her back. Some other characters attend the seemingly endless party until it transpires in the second act that the unidentified guest is a psychologist whom both husband and wife consult. The other guests also seem to consult with the psychologist about the couple’s situation. That roughly seemed to be the gist. There was another storyline about a slightly meagre man, and a restless women. Sadly however, much of this play seemed to disappear down the throats of some of the actors through swallowing lines and speaking too quickly. These problems together with the T.S. Eliot text, did not lead to good drama. It was one of T.S. Eliot’s most popular plays during his lifetime.  In the current production it was hard to see this.

Furthermore, one thing occurred on stage that I have never before witnessed in a professional production. Being seated behind a chap with two copies of the text I initially assumed we were sitting behind a massive keeno. It turned out he was there as a prompt and he was actually needed three times by the same actor! One particular scene in the second act had the actor in question sweating profusely and noticeably in a troubled state. I wish not to be too harsh on any professionals who undertake the art of performance, and maybe this particular actor had been called in at the last minute. Maybe they needed more rehearsal time. Either way suspending one’s disbelief becomes harder when an actor shouts out ‘yes please’ and is given his lines from the audience. There were a number of other occasions when actors seemed to be jumping the gun with lines, giving the general impression that maybe they needed another two weeks in rehearsal. This was only their second performance. It was, however, the first time we have seen anything like this before.

Other technical things jarred with us. The squeaky floorboard, which seemed to squeak with every turning step; the banks of lights at head height that seemed to cast shadows on actors’ faces; actors rearranging the furniture and tableware to set scenes all added to the overall impression that this was, in fact, an amateur production.

This was a bit of a let down. But theatres can’t get it right every time, and maybe all this play needs is a few more nights to get it into shape. Certainly we are looking forward to their next piece ‘Ubu and The Truth Commission’. We left very disappointed and will scrap this production from our memories.

Highlight of the show – the performances of Christopher Ravenscroft fresh out of the wonderful ‘High Society’ and Marcia Warren, both bringing a touch of class to this production with their delivery, charm and humour.

Wigs 2/5

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