How to Act is staged and performed as if you are attending a masterclass in acting; from the lead actor greeting you personally when you arrive, to his apologies when emotions tighten onstage, you are left unsure if you have come to the right show or not. The way that it blends this with the history of Nigeria and the plot that unfolds between the characters is seamless.
In the first half, the play focuses on stripping away all the frivolity from modern theatre and reducing acting to its most fundamental roots. It takes us back to the tradition of the Greek tragedians and reminds us that in ancient times theatre did not need special effects or any of the paraphernalia that surrounds modern performance in film and theatre. It is the spirit of the rawest forms of drama that this performance embodies. By drawing attention to the importance of acting that truly embodies and ‘feels’ what it is portraying, we can then truly appreciate the raw energy of the performance as it progresses.
The performance does not play by any rulebook, therefore defining it seems superfluous. It breaks down the fourth wall to the extent that Antony (the teacher) borrows the shoes of the audience to create a circle on stage. This circle is then used to represent everything from a kitchen table to Nigeria. The simplicity of this design makes the power of the play incredibly poignant and mesmerising.
During the performance (or masterclass) the lead female actress ‘Promise’ introduces herself as the lead participant in the class. Through Antony’s acting exercises we learn more and more of the character’s history, which centres ingeniously around the West’s history with Nigeria, regarding the exploitation by the oil companies of the West, such as Shell. Promise is from Nigeria and expresses remembrances of her life as a small child and the memories of her mother, recreating them for the teacher in the class, so that we can see them too. Antony similarly shares his remembrances of Nigeria, revelling in the local culture and his condescending appreciation of the women. In an intensely thought provoking way the play turns the mirror on the truth of this situation from the white privileged version that we in this country are all too attuned to. We are truly taught a lesson in understanding and empathy, and made to see our own condescension and superiority, as difficult as it is to accept, especially from the ‘liberal’ standpoint that Antony represents. As we are shown the flipside of this man’s journey to Nigeria from the perspective of Promise, we learn that the women that Antony had watched dancing were forced to be there by their poverty, and that Antony’s ‘appreciation’ of them is nothing more than exploitation, just as the oil companies had exploited their country.
The play does seem somewhat like a Greek tragedy, with the Hamartia of Antony and a real climax at the end leading to catharsis for the audience, who see a man brought low by those he inflicted suffering on. How To Act is a cutting-edge post-modern performance that will have you transfixed to the stage.
How to Act
Runs 13th – 17th March
Image: Tim Morozzo