EMMA ROBERTS loves theatre, hates fascism (and bad plays about fascism).
Pembroke New Cellars, 9-13th November, 7.45pm. £4-5.
Written & Directed by Niall Wilson
All I knew about Ava Adore before reviewing it was that the title had been lifted from a 1998 Smashing Pumpkins song; I did not know how this related to a drama about Goering and Goebbels set in 1938. A bit of sleuthing on Yahoo Answers told me some fan(s) had a theory that the song is about Hitler’s wife Eva Braun (why? Eva/ Ava, see?) but I couldn’t get much further than that. Exasperating. As, it turned out, was the play.
I arrived slightly late and missed an opportunity to look at the programme beforehand – unfortunate, since the play offered very little substance in its actual performance. As I shuffled sheepishly towards a seat in the back row, I was greeted by three characters onstage, dimly identifiable as two Nazi officials and a butler. The cast of six was entirely female, necessitating a hefty suspension of both disbelief and the connotations of bad GCSE Drama that cross-casting evokes.
Lamentably, it was more than just cross-dressing girls that gave off the dreaded GCSE fumes. Historian playwright Niall Wilson seemed much more concerned with accurately representing the German Pre-War political zeitgeist through facts and figures than anything so trivial as writing style. The play was crammed with irritatingly jarring phraseology, including a particularly odd fixation on limp animal-based metaphors (‘a rat helping cats chase mice’, ‘duck spitting water’, ‘oversexed dog’ and ‘curious fish’ to name but a merciful few) that lent it the clanging tone of a bad translation.
At times the writing would build impressively, only to be thwarted by clumsy cliché. For example, after Frederick the butler’s monologue about the disappearance of his somewhat irrelevant girlfriend Ava, Dieter the cook’s subsequent line, ‘And you feel…?’ was ludicrous enough to have me biting the inside of my cheeks and trying hard to think sad thoughts. The sniggers accompanying lines this woefully banal suggested I was not the only one struggling to take it seriously.
However, my main problem with Ava Adore stemmed from the mind-bogglingly banal twist into metatheatre halfway through. Why were the ‘actors’ still retaining aspects of their character, such as Goebbels’ limp and Helga’s drunkenness? How did any of this explain their previously capricious behaviour and motivations? It didn’t. I believe that the monumental mind-fuck of it all was meant to shock the audience so much that they forgot about the intensely obvious plot-holes and irreconcilable discrepancies plaguing most of the play. A sort of pragmatic verfremdungseffekt. Whilst it is clear that Wilson was attempting a disconcerting surrealism, all he achieved in his audience was a bemused bewilderment.
Redeeming features included a relatively strong cast who gave performances that made the gender incongruity between actor and character largely unnoticeable. Kat Griffith’s brief but lively turn as Heydrich and Meabh Maguire’s endearing drunk Helga provided comic relief that lifted the energy a tad; while Nicola Marsh’s portrayal of Goebbels struck the perfect balance between evil and tragic. Overall (uber alles?) however, this lacklustre and tediously confusing piece of theatre frustrated me to the point of smashing pumpkins. Which is a sort of victory, I suppose.