Escurial and School for Buffoons
Escurial and School for Buffoons
By Michael De Ghelderode
Theatre Collection: Camden, London
Director: Victor Sobchak
Producer: Theatre Collection - Shaban Arifi
Cast includes: Yiannis Alexiou, Steve Jesson, Simon Gibbons, Joshua Morris, Daniel Ahmadi, Emilia Saabo, Tara Aggarwal
Running time: 2 hours (including interval)
Review by Isabelle Coy-Dibley
If anyone is acquainted with Michael De Ghelderode’s works, you will know what you’re about to witness. Victor Sobchak’s interpretation captures this prolific writer’s imagery of degradation, human excess and grotesqueness – at times leaving you speechless. The challenging, stylised acting (devilish masks and mimicry are prominent) heighten the experience, creating an eerie, sinister atmosphere that is sustained throughout the play.
Due to the duality of this performance (with Escurial preceding School of Buffoons), it is difficult to express an opinion of the piece as a whole. The disparate nature of both plays leaves you torn: the bombastic, crazed disciples of the second play highlights the lack of extravagance in the first. Whilst Michael De Ghelderode’s work promotes similarities to Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty merged with Commedia dell’arte, Escurial falls short of fulfilling such expectations in this instance. As two separate plays they both hold merit, but seen back-to-back, though Escurial relates to the tragic story depicted in School for Buffoons, it felt largely unnecessary.
The isolated stage, located above The Lord Stanley pub, sets the tone with an armchair, velvet covered furniture, flowers and candle-stands. This enclosed space lends itself well to School for Buffoons where the proximity to the masked, threatening characters enhances the disconcerting yet absorbing atmosphere. However, the grandeur that Escurial attempted to communicate was lost once the King (Yiannis Alexou) sank into a creaky, run-down armchair (his ‘throne’). This aside, the Buffoon, Folial (Steve Jesson), energises the play with his well-articulated and expressive acting. Jesson’s ability to perform a crafty fool juxtaposed to his authoritative imitation of the king wasaffecting. His versatility as a performer was evident once he dethroned the King, bringing to light the comparative one-dimensionality of his counterpart.
However, despite its faults, Escurial is still worth enduring, as what follows is a true credit to sinister yet modernised Commedia dell’arte. Returning from the interval, one expects the same comparatively subdued nature of the first play, only to be completely shocked by the opening scene of School of Buffoons. This is a refreshingly energetic tonal departure. Our sudden exposure to five unruly disciples and their menacing leader, Galgute (Joshua Morris), as they cavort with animalistic and sexualised abandon is jolting. Daniel Ahmadi manages to top his brilliantly neurotic interpretation (and frustratingly minor role) as a monk in Escurial with entertainingly feral Buffoon, Buffry.
In conjunction with this, Morris eventually shatters the Lord Stanley’s ‘fourth-wall’ between actor and audience by ferociously acknowledging them as ‘nobles’ at close-range – the whites of Morris’ eyes are starkly visible as he growls and accuses a disappointingly small crowd. However the play and its actors power through and truly hit top gear at this point, generally refusing to let go until the School of Buffoon’s final scene. Morris as a masked Jester becomes a twisted parody, where cynicism seeps into the humour. The actors met the challenge of performing in masks – where the importance of expression lies in the body rather than through facial movement – with great success. The contrast between the buffoons and Old Master Folial (Simon Gibbons) is effective. Gibbons’ eloquent speeches of dreams and delirium are portrayed meticulously, while his physical mimicry of a blushing lady within the ‘prelude’ was highly entertaining, followed by an impressive mime.
School of Buffons deserves more attention – if justice was done, the Lord Stanley’s creaky pews would be wall-to-wall with theatregoers. The low attendance was ultimately a definite discredit to the enduring nature of this performance, where the committed actors gave it everything regardless. The play emphasises the dark nature of the human condition where laughter becomes twisted, warped with the cruelty that Old Master Folial proclaims as the secret of great art. Yet fear not, you may leave disturbed, but when a character declares “I’m getting revenge; I’m trampling your shadow” what harm can this play really do?
© 2011 ARV Tech