TFTV’s Scenic Stage Theatre is no stranger to early modern French comedies, so it’s with some skill that the team behind The Liar have managed to create something entirely new; a young man named Doronte (Ben Kawalec) returns to Paris, eager to find love and a more exciting life. Upon meeting and being enchanted by the beautiful Clarice (Sekeenat Karim), though he assumes that she is, in fact, her friend Lucrece (Hannah Eggleton), Doronte spins himself a web of increasingly ridiculous lies until he gets caught in it. What follows is a fast-paced farce of mistaken identity, quick-witted servants and ridiculous coincidences.
So far, so very, very 17th century. But this production is anything but old-fashioned. Nina Harding’s set invites invention, one wall made entirely of moving panels that the incredible cast burst through, hide behind and dance with to create a dynamic and changeable environment. Each setting is introduced by charming projections and lighting states from Sean Byrne and Raine Lorcan Hedge and with every lie Kawalec expertly brought to life more projections, lighting and music built around him.
One adventure saw Kawalec and Joseph Hayes (actor of Alcippe) in a projected duel, only to jump out in excellent sync onto the stage before dipping back into the projection again. An amazing collaboration between projectionist, actors and movement direction from Natasha Dawson.
While these created worlds were a real feat in their own right, notice must be taken of their lack of consistency. The design style changed between each lie in a way that unfortunately made them less effective as a whole. It’s hard to say that they were really necessary when the same general effect could have been achieved through conventional lighting and sound. But then again, I am often struck by the question of “What can you do with early modern?” and with the projections in this play, the very skilled Byrne has replied, “What can you do? How about this?”, it’s a new way of storytelling, and while it definitely wasn’t a perfectly constructed rule in the play, I certainly enjoyed it a lot.
The acting in this production was simply on another level. Doronte may have been the eponymous liar but the show was stolen by his valet Cliton (Marcus Crabb). Kawalec’s portrayal of both extravagant lying and foolish planning was matched perfectly in talent by Crabb’s hilarious incredulous servent. It’s a real credit to both actors and the direction of Thomas Leadbeater and Carla-Jayne Cole that neither one upstaged the other while both maintained an incredibly high energy performance.
Karim and Eggleton were a similarly well matched two, managing to bring incredible characterisation from an often limited script. Karim’s sure-footed Clarice was a wonderful balance to Eggleton’s more fanciful Lucrece.
The cast really was astonishingly convincing, I laughed a lot which is an achievement for an early modern play. There were a few problems with the projection of some lines from some actors but it is a difficult space and mostly not a problem, though special credit should really be given to Jessie Nixon for clarity even while playing a stuttering Argante.
The real victory here was the cohesion; every aspect of this production enhanced the rest in a slick and professional way. The way that actors played with the set and were taken in by or rejected the creations of sound, lighting and projections was simply beautiful. Also, the skill with which the design created a convincing and abstract Paris, outside of any specific time was masterful, I was never left wondering where or when we were, an achievement I could probably credit to almost everyone on the production team but in particular this was no small dramaturgical task and kudos must be given to production dramaturg Robbie Nestor for facilitating such convincing collaboration.
This was a complicated and well-executed production, a real feather in the cap of absolutely everyone involved. It will be very interesting indeed to see what the next set of early modern plays on The Scenic Stage will bring but this will be a tough act to follow.