Stella

Southwark Playhouse, 23 – 27 March 2010

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

Stella is a collage of different source texts and performance styles, and a collage is not a mosaic: while the components may share a common theme, they don’t necessarily work together to create a bigger picture.

Extracts from Goethe’s original text are mingled with Firehouse’s own fast-and-loose adaptation, and with verbatim anecdotes about relationships collected from members of the public. The resulting patchwork is then presented through a mixture of straight acting, spoken-word recitation, song and physical performance.

Some of the testimony, such as one man’s story of his accidental spouse’s affair with an insect farmer, is hilarious; some is touching; but some is bland and instantly forgettable. The same is true of the show as a whole.

Any given spectator is almost guaranteed to find some component of the variety pack enjoyable. But say that, as I did, you enjoy the laid-back country-and-western vibe of the devised segments (a vibe generated almost single-handedly by Alan Cox as Ray, an irresponsible, guitar-strumming single father), you may find yourself disappointed that there isn’t more of it.

Likewise, it’s very unlikely that any given spectator will enjoy every one of the production’s disparate elements. But say that, as I did, you find the physical theatre sequences superfluous and unconvincing, you’ll probably be relieved that they’re such a small part of the show.

Throwing aside stylistic convention and uniting such disparate elements in the service of a single show is an ambitious aim, so it’s unfortunate and somewhat ironic that Firehouse appear instead to be hedging their bets; their ambition easily mistaken for indecision, Stella’s diversity for inconsistency.

The show fails – inevitably – to please all of the people all of the time, but it should please all of the people at least some of the time; and considering the two goals are mutually exclusive, one out of two isn’t bad at all.

Written by Firehouse Creative Productions after Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Crew includes Rachel Parish (director) and Will Holt (designer)

Cast includes Elizabeth Boag (Isabelle/Stella), Alan Cox (Ray), Durassie Kiangangu (Sam) and Richard Maxted (Leo)

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