Fans of Difficult|Stage’s 2015 Christmas production of Alix in Wundergarten will be pleased to hear that Fabian Padmoore-Ponds and Allison are back with another Lewis Carroll-inspired trip into chaos. Those who have yet to be introduced to this frenetic world needn’t be put off by it being a sequel, but be warned: if you are wanting a wholesome festive show that follows convention, you may well need to look elsewhere.
The audience are informed in the advertising that they are there as prospective production interns, competing for the chance to work under the iron fist of Nicola Reynolds’ austere, platinum blonde Alison Tittenson, Head of Radio Drama. This is re-iterated at the start of the show and much like in pantomime, audience interaction is demanded and provides opportunities for comedy throughout.
Carl Davies’ stark white, glass fronted, high tech set is dazzling and makes clever use of the diminutive stage, creating a recording studio that has a touch of the lunatic asylum about it, not least because it houses within, another glass booth containing Francois Pandolfo’s Fabian, who could very easily be confused with The Shining’s Jack Torrance. He is joined in the studio by wheelchair-bound Gwennith Priddy, Welsh language actress and proud mother, who harbours dark secrets that of course are revealed as the play unfolds. She is deftly portrayed by Eiry Hughes, who mixes impeccable comic timing with emotional depth. Last to arrive is Robert Bowman’s jovial, Christmas jumper-toting Ivor Tittenson, ex-husband to Allison, now happily residing with his male lover, Sebastian. This domestic arrangement is the source of much of the friction that ensues. Other parts are filled by audience members and Leonardo Dicaprio look-alike Callum Hymers, playing an optimistic, fresh-faced actor, new on the block and in the building, who stumbles into the studio by mistake.
Under the direction of Matthew Blake, the cast succeed in leading the audience as they seemingly hurtle pell mell through song, dance, a brief game show, moments of personal crisis and revelation, whilst recording (we assume), sections of Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Pandolfo and the company have created once more surreal, breath-stopping stuff with touching moments of realism too. For all its absurdity, we cannot fail to recognise its humanity and that may well be where its genius resides.
Sound design by Sam Jones, lighting design by Katy Morrison and stage management (and impressively some dialogue too) by Bethan Dawson all contribute to a slick, highly technical production, each bringing a sharp focus to a wonderfully anarchic show.
Prospective audiences should approach Looking Through Glass much like they would an extreme rollercoaster ride. Be prepared to experience persistent, sometimes violent ups and downs as events fluctuate between elation and despair. Strap in, hold tight and beware of sharp objects.
Difficult|Stage are a company, happy to share good and bad reviews. They play by their own rules and would no doubt be quite happy to hear that you don’t like them.
Looking Through Glass runs at The Other Room until December 23rd.
Contains adult content.
Images: Kieran Cudlip