BY CATHERINE MEEK
Lucy Nordberg’s play belies expectation. I was unsure whether this tale, of self-made mogul John differing with his biographer on the theme of his life story, would be sufficient to capture my attention. Surely a conflict between biographer and subject is what everyone expects? However, the familiar themes of sibling rivalry and the (ab)use of money to exert power are set within an entertaining exposé of John’s personal drama. The more I reflect on the play, the more I’m convinced it brings a fresh perspective to the human dilemma.
John chooses to commission brother Geoffrey to write the story of his life, outwardly because of Geoffrey’s publishing success. But it wasn’t difficult to discern the underlying psychological need: John’s desire to persuade Geoffrey of his own achievements. Far from falling prey to John’s pretensions, Geoffrey will only agree to write a version of his life which obviates the material achievement John has on show, trapping him in the shortcomings of their childhood. We watch each brother weave his view of the past into their present relationships with Miranda and Helen, who couldn’t be more different yet suffer a similar burden: their spouses’ inability to trust that they are enough.
The juxtaposition of a story within the story – John is funding a film and we meet the motley crew he employs – is on the face of it a welcome, light-hearted diversion. But it also serves to further intensify the plight of the central characters. Happily, as an outcome of his reunion with his brother, John has a chance to evade his destiny: that of rich and lonely old man, when all the crowds have gone.
The unimpressive surroundings of the Brighthelm community hall demanded we conjure John’s ostentatious Californian mansion from our imaginations. But a clever use of props guided us: John’s guests use a pair of statues as hat-stands, providing comic relief whilst underlining the flimsy sham he has created in place of authentic self-expression. The stage was constructed of decking, just large enough for the long dining table and chairs which contained each scene; John’s heavy stature seemed to teeter on the edge of the set, impressing upon me that, like his house, he was not for real. Interestingly, the audience sat in rows on either side of the table, effectively drawing the crowd in.
The play was delivered with panache, and struck a comfortable balance between humour and intensity. Lucy Nordberg has the actors of Pendragon Enterprises to thank for this, all of whom appeared at ease in their characters’ clothes. I make special mention of ‘aspiring actress’ Angelina Purschel: her portrayal of the shallow, fame-hungry Candy could so easily have deteriorated into pantomime, but she skilfully created a three-dimensional young woman aspiring to a life beyond the glamour we might have expected to consume her. With blonde locks, oversized shades, bling and colourful itsy-bitsy outfits she was the most convincing of characters – but all these actors deserve an audience, so go see!