What transpires when a fading stage and screen director has to make a sensible decision to rescue his career from the brink of despair by collaborating with somebody who to some extent you do not like, as well as, how an illustrious critic tries to keep the peace between them? Southwark Playhouse’s production of Austin Pendleton’s 2000 play, ‘Orson’s Shadow’ was a somewhat unconvincing portrayal of factual events; also the performances didn't excite me that much.
‘Orson’s Shadow’ is set during the 1960’s where we are introduced to distinguished and controversial theatre critic, Kenneth Tynan who has made a journey to Ireland to have an informal meeting with his long lasting friend, the director, Orson Welles who is really desperate to make a successful theatre and/or film project. Orson’s servant, Sean (Ciaran O’Brien) who is vastly abrupt informs Orson of Kenneth’s appearance. On the other hand, there is a tense atmosphere as Orson is unhappy with Kenneth as he made some snide comments in a review about one of Orson’s theatre shows. But Kenneth has a proposal for Orson as a strategy to save Orson’s dwindling career and this is direct one of Britain’s notorious actors in a production of Eugène Ionesco's, ‘Rhinoceros’. Back in London, when Kenneth meets with legendary actor, Laurence Olivier about an anticipated job role as dramaturg/literary manager for the new National Theatre, he asks Laurence about working with Orson on the Ionesco play and even though he is apprehensive, he accepts both offers. Once Orson arrives from Ireland with Sean we can see how British and American creative have different views on how to construct theatrical work and analysis of playwright’s intentions. Moreover, it seems that Orson has an appreciation for Olivier’s crazy and conceited wife, Vivien Leigh (Gina Bellman), which Kenneth has also slated in his reviews for The Observer. Alternatively, Olivier has been having a courtship with another woman by the name of Joan Plowright (Louise Ford), who soon becomes Olivier’s second wife. Joan pleads with Laurence to talk to Vivien abut a divorce and when he chickens out on doing so, Joan understandably is not exultant. Over the course of the performance, Tynan, who is overseeing rehearsals with both Laurence and Orson and it’s noticeable that Olivier has issues with his and Joan’s characters and Orson’s abnormal directing style. At the finale, Olivier is still in his marriage with Vivien even though he is in love with Joan, Orson who has lied about his intentions for being a part of the creative team for Rhinoceros makes one more successful film and Tynan remains as one of the United Kingdom’s influential theatre critics. Pendleton’s narrative is satisfactory as a play about how Rhinoceros came together did feel too melodramatic, furthermore, at times the plot falls flat on some aspects i.e. Kenneth Tynans’s poor health and the amour between Sir Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright.
One found the performances by the company of, ‘Orson’s Shadow’ were adequately conveyed through agreeable movements and good voice work which emulates similar characteristics of the personalities mentioned. Edward Bennet is conventional as of theatre criticism’s marvels, Kenneth Tynan; mainly how the lack of clear and coherent conversations is exact to the real Tynan as he had a lisp and only had the confidence to convey his opinions through his writing, just like how I have troubles. Adrian Lukis is tolerable as the wondrous, Sir Laurence Olivier; in particular when he tries to justify to both Vivien and Joan about his love for them, similarly his worrying expression for his characters enactments shows that Olivier was the ultimate professional in his craft. John Hodgkinson is acceptable as struggling American film and theatre director, Orson Welles; for example how his failing career has impacted on how long it takes for him to make a film and when he wants to complete his Shakespeare movie he explains he has to stop when money is non-existent.
Alice Hamilton’s direction is second or even third rate here as there is not enough attention to detail within the entire production as an abundant amount of moments were lacklustre and the work in capturing Pendleton’s play was really disappointing to be quite frank. Max Dorey’s design was however well designed as I could see where I was and the in-the-round configuration did work here, plus Nicholas Holdbridge’s lighting design incorporated a dark environment. Overall, the experience of, ‘Orson’s Shadow’ was a slightly disappointing one and one of the most shocking shows I’ve seen at Southwark Playhouse.