Aria da Capo

SEAN HEWITT finds himself left wanting more by this week’s lateshow.

ADC aria da capo charlie risius freddie poulton jennie king olivia vaughan-fowler sam curry sean hewitt Theatre

ADC, 29th February – 3rd March, 11pm, £4-6

Directed by Charlie Risius

[rating: 3/5]

Allegory (as many a Cambridge English student knows from painful experience) is difficult to get right. It either leaves you swimming in a mass of all-but-ungraspable suggestion, or else becomes a slightly-tedious Aesopian fable.

First produced in 1919, this one-act anti-war play would have had much more bite for its original audience, still reeling from the shock of WWI. The thing is, we know war’s awful, ridiculous, avaricious: any sense of glory has (I hope) been well-bleached-out from any child’s head with the mandatory dose Wilfred Owen administered in every GCSE course across the country. I can’t help feel that Aria da Capo is somewhat preaching to the converted.

But of course, that doesn’t  make it a bad play. Millay’s play bookends tragedy with farce, and credit must go to director Charlie Risius for navigating both with much skill. The two clowns who open the play, Pierrot (Matt Clayton) and Columbine (Freddie Poulton), promptly launch into a farce which is as funny as required of them.

Though the pair were perhaps a bit too good at their job. Poulton’s Columbine has a piercing voice pitched at the frequency of a Monday-morning fire-drill, and Clayton’s Pierrot is convincingly idiotic to the point of unbearable irritation. It’s with gritted teeth that you consider that maybe they’re supposed to piss you off.

In fact, it’s only with the hindsight afforded by the play’s repeating structure that we can begin to appreciate Clayton and Poulton’s characters fully. Particularly after the tragedy of the middle-section, they become a sobering symbol of nonchalance.

The real treat came, however, with the arrival of the two shepherds, played excellently by Jennie King and Sam Curry, who are themselves ‘actors’ in the very meta world of this play. They are forced to act out the scene by the onstage director/dictator figure, Cothurnus, played by a commanding and stern Olivia Vaughan-Fowler. This second pair oscillate beautifully between the tragic and the comic, and the play’s subtly is truly brought to life as the audience is left with a palpable guilt when our laughter makes its bitter aftertaste known.

Vaughan-Fowler carries confidence well, and serves as a stark contrast to Curry and King, whose considerable subtleties of expression give these decidedly one-dimensional characters the depth of innocence and folly which the audience needs to sympathise with them.

A lot of effort has gone into this production: the costumes, makeup and original music all come together with coherency, and few first-night glitches. Plastic fruit, ribbons, and spare ADC costume rails create a set that is simple and resourceful, if a little uninspiring.

Aria is definitely worth a watch, and works perfectly as food-for-thought lateshow, but ultimately it just seems to sit oddly, not quite hitting the mark, not quite striking home.