While Lisa Forrell's production of Time And The Room last year at London's Gate Theatre gave equal weight to Botho Strauss's humour and his dark absurdity, Martin Duncan emphasises the brightness which has led Strauss occasionally to be derided as a German Ayckbourn. Here, irrationality looms up to subvert events rather than extsting in counterpoise with them.
In Act I, Tyrone Huggins and John Ramm do a Gilbert and George impression as Julius and Olaf, the room's inhabitants, while a number of other characters enter, leave and on occasion simply vanish according to conversational cues. After the interval, a series of discrete scenes bear out Marie Steuber's earlier declaration: "I've adapted myself to everybody." Whether at a bizarrely seductive dinner or engaged in a domestic row over (of all subjects) Medea, Marie's personality is quite discontinuous; it varies with the function of the room itself.
Wolfgang Göbbel's disconcertingly non-Euclidean set is cleverly versatile – perhaps too much so, as now and again the physical layout of the room itself changes. Duncan shows a sharp eye for human idiosyncrasy: Alexandra Mathie's Impatient Woman, in particular, is a delightful mélange of tics and insecurities, going back to redeliver a line of small talk when she feels she has not been casual enough. As Marie Steuber, Anita Dobson once again sidles up on excellence but just misses: she rings Marie's changes of mood and register expertly, but a fence of deliberation persists throughout her performance.
Strauss's concern with the mutability of individual identity according to social and physical environment is at times overshadowed by a production which demonstrates wit of its own: scene changes are orchestrated to music ranging from a 1930s novelty number to 1980s Europop hit "99 Luftballons", a wall alcove which had been a video library suddenly becomes a drinks cabinet, and a running gag results eventually in a foot-high mound of disposable cigarette lighters on the stage.
For some years, Strauss's lack of popularity in Britain has been a mystery, since Britain has a theatrical culture in tune with his style and preoccupations. However, a polished production such as Duncan's may be just the thing to bring his work to the broader attention it merits.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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