This weekend, Somesuch Theatre Company set out to consider the ever prevalent topic ‘the myth of the one’ in their new play Imaginary Friends written by Deirdre Burton and Tom Davis. Set in mac’s Hexagon theatre, the small venue immediately established an intimacy reminiscent of a miniature lecture theatre; this was enhanced by the performers’ coming to the stage from their seats in the first row of the audience as if they were mere speakers rather than actors. Given the company’s long-standing association with the University of Birmingham, it is little wonder that the piece, rich with literary references and abstract motifs, divulged into what sometimes felt more like an academic discussion than a simple play.
Yet, our performers’ position upon the play’s theme was far from easy to extract; the questions ‘Who are you? What really matters? Where are you going?’ endlessly returned to tantalise the audience, whilst fragmented dialogue combined with song and mime seemingly to construct an impenetrable wall behind which the actors hid their point.
Extraction was hardly the point however. The beautiful movement sequences that punctuated the piece complemented the DIY soundtrack provided by the actors’ singing to create an extremely visually gratifying show. The skill with which we were navigated through the characters’ worlds within minimalist stage set brought a fluidity to the piece, a testament to what the company is able to do with such a small space, as well as encouraging the audience to forget their lack of comprehension. We were convinced to sit back and believe that all would be made clear, just not in the most linear fashion.
The acting of university student Becky Sexton especially could be described as endearingly strange, her character’s vulnerability and partiality to nonsense touching the audience so that we greatly pitied her struggles in the world of first dates and were relieved to learn that she is still on the ‘quest’ for love, and has not yet reached the end of the road.
At first, the writers’ partiality for new explorations of William Shakespeare was not evident. Having titled previous plays Actors, eat no onions! A Midsummer Night’s Dream turned inside out (2011) or Remember me: a most unusual Hamlet (2010) where the reference was obvious, Imaginary Friends presented more of a challenge for fans of Shakespeare. Yet his avid readers may rest assured that as the play unraveled, links became less tenuous. The clownish Jane Brown, for example, performed wonderfully the crudely comical individual typical of an interlude in one of Shakespeare’s more downtrodden plays, her exaggerated mime and hilariously bawdy manner provoking much amusement from the audience.
It was in this scene too that the self-proclaimed ‘Symbologist’, played by Ramesh Krishnamurthy, drew the illogicality of the piece together. He stated that his aim was not to make sense of the bigger questions that are asked, but to open discussion and give an ‘unlikely explanation’ so that we can look at topics in a much more interesting way. This is typical of the ‘alchemy of the heart’ that the company assumes as its tagline; having been refused a coherent plot, we were instead given a collection of strange stories which gave a warm-hearted message to those who still feel like ‘half an archway’. The subtle reassurance that the ‘quest’ for ‘the one’ is not a futile one is reminiscent of Twelfth Night, as is hinted at by the Viola and Sebastian of the second act, since the paired characters either already are, or inevitable will be, a complete set much like the reunion of Shakespeare’s twins.
This was yet another successful script from Burton and Davis who continue to make Shakespeare and literature relevant to contemporary theatre today. More photographs of the cast and information about future productions can be found at the Somesuch Theatre Company’s website.
Words by Becca Inglis