It seemed like a brilliant idea. A win-win situation. There’d be credit for inspired innovation. And historical authenticity as a bonus.
We were familiar, in the course of our London theater tour experience, with productions taking chances with their approaches. We saw Hamlet, set in a mental institution. And Pippin, played as a video game. The British National Theater’s Juno and the Paycock’s alteration of the proceedings was, though unconventional, not nearly that ambitious.
In other elements, it hewed respectfully to writer Sean O’Casey’s original concept. No changing Dublin into Chicago. No “time-jumping” to the 60’s. This was 1920’s Dublin, during Ireland’s sad and brutally violent civil war.
I am not privy to the specifics of the proposal – I know only what our tour guide had explained to us, as a “heads up” on our way to the theater – but it appears that somebody – maybe it was the set designer, perhaps feeling “If I have to design one more Irish hovel, I will kill myself!” had come up to the director, possibly with a picture book of Dublin in the 20’s in hand, and said,
“You know, Mr. Director, the Irish working poor of that period didn’t actually live in closet-sized, little apartments. The truth is, they rented rooms in capacious Georgian houses, that fallen badly into disrepair.
“What I’m suggesting is that, instead of playing the scenes in a cramped and constricted living room like The Honeymooners – which is in this case, factually incorrect – why not, perhaps for the first time ever in the staging of this play, set the action in the location where it would more likely have taken place?”
And so they did.
The result was a play involving a destitute Irish family, occupying an enormous, high-ceilinged, albeit run down, living area, with a long, large window facing the the street, an expansive setting in which, during far better days, George the Third, or some other Upper Class George that the Georgian architectural style was named after, might have celebrated pampered little Georgie Junior’s birthday party.
Still, there was the research. The adherence to historical accuracy, it was determined, would enhance the current production’s verisimilitude.
We are not English, and we’re not Irish. So the accent in which the actors delivered the lines was virtually indecipherable to us. In addition, the enormous playing area, rather than the tiny set Juno was normally performed in, severely dwarfed the actors, and swallowed up their words – Strike Two, in our ability to pick up any of the dialogue.
And all the time, the audience, who, lacking the benefit of Patrick’s explanation for the creative decision, is presumably wondering what this impoverished family is doing in this gargantuan living room?
A creative choice, made for the right reasons.
And it undermined the entire production.
Be careful about brilliant ideas.
They may only be brilliant in theory.