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Review: The Actor's Nightmare, Park Theatre - a few giggles but it needs more bite

The Actor's Nightmare is six short plays, linked by themes of acting, theatre and performance and brought together for the first time at the Park Theatre.

The Cast of The Actor's Nightmare. Photo credit - Ali Wright
The Cast of The Actor's Nightmare. Photo: Ali Wright

It kicks off with a monologue, Mrs Sorken, which is in part a lecture about the etymology of words such as 'theatre' and part reflection from a theatre-goer.

While observations about the ancient origins of the language around theatre and performance elevate the importance of the medium, the theatre-goer brings things down to earth with a bump, talking about the practicalities of outside theatre and wanting to be home by 10.30.

The irony of the arts perceived lofty importance pitched against mundane reality is refreshing and I'd have liked to have seen more of the audience perspective explored.

Meaghan Martin and Adrian Richards in The Actor's Nightmare. Photo credit - Ali Wright
Meaghan Martin and Adrian Richards in The Actor's Nightmare. Photo: Ali Wright

Rather the plays go on to lightly dissect the industry and different genres of drama and performance.

Stand up, classical Greek, the American classics, Noel Coward, Samuel Beckett and of course Shakespeare are among the works that come under the spotlight.

The highlight for me was Medea - I did giggle when 'Jason' arrived and said 'hello me-dear'.

Irony and ridiculousness

Most of the humour comes from the plain-talking chorus 'we are all so upset, we speak in unison' and it is accompanied by a performance from the titular character that involves much hand-wringing and sweeping gestures.

There is one piece - Business Lunch at a Russian Tea Room - in which an impoverished playwright meets a Hollywood producer who wants to commission him.

The producer is a vacuous woman looking for sensationalism but who talks of the need for depth and emotion.


(L-R) Layo-Christina Akinlude  Stefan Menaul and Meaghan Martin in The Actor's Nightmare. Photo credit Ali Wright
(L-R) Layo-Christina Akinlude Stefan Menaul and Meaghan Martin in The Actor's Nightmare. Photo: Ali Wright

Inexplicably the playwright is clutching his basket of laundry throughout the lunch and the producer's idea for a film is so ridiculous the scene pushes beyond surreal to the absurd and farcical.

In the closing piece, a man finds himself mistaken for an understudy and on stage without knowing what the play is, let alone his lines.

It would make an amusing short sketch but instead, like the plate of sardines in Noises Off, repetition of a joke or scenario has a tendency to kill the humour.

Laboured humour

Sadly it is a problem that is replicated across several of the plays as humourous ideas are laboured and not enough to sustain the one hour and 45-minute running time.

That has its own irony given the opening monologue.

There are some funny moments and chuckles but I can't help feeling that a lot depends on how well you know the classic plays. For seasoned theatre-goers, you can tick them off bingo-style. 

More satire, please

I'd have preferred something far more satirical with more bite instead, this feels a little frothy.

I'm giving The Actor's Nightmare  ⭐️⭐️ and a half stars.

It's at the Park Theatre until 10 August and is one hour and 45 minutes without an interval.

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