“I can only trust in what I can see with my own eyes, seeing as everything, everything is a lie. And in any case, I might want everything to be different. That’s what it says on books as well: this book will change your life. Lots of people want that, you know, that their lives are changed.”
Perplexing is the word, and to waltz into this play unprepared, as I did, is bound to leave one with more questions than answers till the very end. Perhaps, though, even preparation is not enough. The play, written by German dramatist Marius von Mayenburg, aims to confuse, dazzle, and amuse, with its four protagonists flitting through roles as fast as an amnesiac burns through memories. It opens with a dippy couple, Robert (Ted Weston) and Eva (Sophie Shepherd), returning home from holiday to unpaid bills and no electricity. Suddenly, their equally scatty friends, Judith (Amelia Hamilton) and Sebastian (Dan South), appear and it turns out this is in fact their home. Robert and Eva are pushed offstage, only to return minutes later with wholly different personalities.
This fleetingness results in much muddle and hilarity as the protagonists cannot sustain any enduring sense of self or others, at one point turning a costume party into a zoophilic scene of man-on-elk lovemaking and its aftermath. All four actors must thus be commended for their versatility. Most scenes require at least two actors onstage consistently, as well as a handle on radically fugacious roles and meandering dialogue. Ted Weston and Dan South stand out for their comical stage presence, the latter’s musical solo being splendidly dreadful, and Sophie Shepherd and Amelia Hamilton prove jarring through their dramatic monologues and meta-awareness. Most of all, the chemistry between these actors is clear, making the interesting mixture of wry comments and slapstick humour all the more effective.
The minimalist stage design adds to the overall strangeness of this play. Besides the four actors, the only physical objects onstage are a coffee table and sofa. All other props are either cardboard cut-outs or vivid chalk drawings on the wall. Costumes are equally simple and effectual. Sound effects, moreover, are grating but fit the otherworldliness of the flat and the increasingly metafictional narrative. The stage and technical team are on point, and evidently understand the self-aware humour of the source material. And although at times the narrative may arguably be too self-aware, with an ending that feels cliché, this performance of Perplex is for anyone who enjoys absurdist humour and unsettlement. It is a true example of what hard work and good acting can achieve.
Perplex has two more performances on Saturday (5th) and Sunday (6th) evening – https://www.facebook.com/events/1128429987245772/