The Actor’s Nightmare at the Park Theatre ‘certainly was a nightmare’

It’s only after returning from The Actor’s Nightmare at the Park Theatre and reading the programme that I realised what the whole ninety minutes was about. The production features six short plays by Christopher Durang (whose Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spikerecently starred Janie Dee in a production in Bath) that are connected by their depiction of theatre and the entertainment industry more widely. 

Conceptually cohesive, there’s sadly little else that makes sense amidst this set of plays. Lydia Parker’s direction has failed, really, to allow each piece breath alone, though there are some good performances. There are also some issues with Durang’s writing, mostly in the humour, which at its worst was somewhat infantile and flat.

Meaghan Martin (of Disney Camp Rock fame) is however one of the strengths of the show. As the lonely comedian Sarah Siddons, Martin’s constant asking for the laughter track to be played was touching. Wrapping herself accidentally in the microphone wiring, the tortured patheticness of the character was painfully realised and a highlight of the show.

Kate Sumpter and Meaghan Martin

Stefan Menaul’s George, who in one piece was thrown on stage as a standby for a variety of plays, was also humorous, as was Kate Sumpter’s pristine lecturer of the dramatic arts.

The number of references to other dramatists including Shakespeare, Coward, Beckett, O’Neill and Seneca imply that Durang’s works are as much a satire on the dramatic canon as the industry. There are jokes, hints and references to be found throughout the pieces, but they are rather too subtle (and too self-serving) and the entire production is too listless to work completely.

I remarked to the person next to me upon entering the theatre that Anna Driftmier’s set looked as if we were entering a séance instead of a dramatic performance. If there were any ghosts present, I’m not quite sure what they what have thought of the evening. Regardless, it certainly was a nightmare. 


The Actor’s Nightmare is at the Park Theatre until the 10th August.

Photograph credit: Ali Wright

Anthony Walker-Cook is a PhD candidate at UCL. @AntWalker_Cook

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