2016 has been a milestone for many of the most noteworthy names in the world of the arts, some of which include the quadricentennial of William Shakespeare’s death and the bicentennial of Charlotte Bronte. It also marks the 57th year of Alan Aykbourn’s career as a playwright and his repertoire to date contains over 70 plays, more than 40 of which have played at the national theatre or the West End.
Today’s offering, Invisible friends, comes at the height of Aykbourn’s more experimental period of writing and follows the story of Lucy and her imaginary friend Zara, who helps Lucy to make her family invisible when they express their disapproval of her overactive imagination. However it comes at a cost as once the novelty has worn off Lucy is manipulated into becoming a personal servant for Zara and her family in order to regain her loved ones.
Firstly it is useful to note that seats are first come first serve so get there early if you want a good seat, which if you are a short person like myself is an essential part of the theatre-going experience. I do have to say though that one of the major flaws in this performance was the staging and audience placement. The audience were situated on both sides of the ‘stage area’ and the seating was on the same level as this which made it very difficult to see what was going on, and unfortunately due to this important plot elements and subtleties of facial expressions were missed and this really did hinder the overall effect of the play.
The actual play is narrated by the main character Lucy, played by Alice Scholes, and she did a very good job of bringing life to this character and engaging with the audience. This was made exceptionally difficult due to the choice of staging. Though I personally found the discrepancy between the age of the character portrayed by Scholes’ and the choice of costume which made her appear much older than I believe the play intended her to be. I feel as though if she had been dressed in more age appropriate clothing it would have been much more effective. Having said this, her use of physicality was fantastic in portraying this character and she managed to maintain this throughout the performance, which was a tall order, given that she was in every scene. Furthermore the cast did a fantastic job of making the characters extremely relatable heightening the humour and making the play an even more enjoyable experience to watch. The best example of this had to be Maria Sykes in her portrayal of the mother; I found her absolutely hilarious and had to give her a special mention.
Another highlight of the play had to be the characterisation and costuming of the invisible characters. Admittedly before seeing the show I was very unsure how they would tackle this and I thought the use of pure white costuming to differentiate the real characters for the imaginary ones and I thought this was a very elegant solution. The three invisible characters also made use of subtle elements of physicality, such as bizarre facial expressions and movement in unison to create the really uncanny effect of a unified mind. Iwan Noble, who played Zara’s invisible brother Chuck, was especially effective at this and he made fantastic use of his face to create and exceptionally eerie character. Finally Laura Roberts’ portrayal of the invisible Zara was also particularly good especially in her subtle transition from her cheeky antics in the beginning of the play to the much darker and threatening actions later on.
Despite any shortcomings I would definitely recommend seeing it as I really did enjoy it. The show is a beautifully written, witty and extremely funny piece that is not only entertaining for adults but would also be accessible to the younger generation.
Reviewer: Amel Bashford
Reviewed: 13th September 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★