Counting the Ways

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Counting the Ways, dir Will Robertson, 1 – 5 November, Burton Taylor: Edward Albee’s Counting theWays is an unsentimental studyof love and grief in a modernAmerican marriage. Composed ofa series of short scenes, on occasionas brief as one sentence, it offers anabstract, dislocated view of middle-America’s disillusionment with loveand married life. The play presents theaudience with two generic caricaturesknown simply as ‘He’ (Sam Thomas)and ‘She’ (Poppy Burton-Morgan).He and She have been married for sixor seven years, but their life as presentedin the play has become one ofperpetual self-doubt. Love and sex becomeinterchangeable in their equallylacklustre nature and ambiguity. Sodisengaged have they become fromtheir emotional life that grieving isviewed in light of its protocol.In Robertson’s production, thecomplexities of naturalistic theatrehave been stripped right back, withminimal props and stark on-off lightingduring the scene changes. By stagingthe play in traverse any theatricalillusions are removed so that, as Albeeexplores human nature onstage, theaudience become necessarily involvedin the process. Face to face with fellowaudience members, reality and conceptare broken down so that the distinctionbetween audience and play isunclear. Robertson offers an invitationto address your own nature. Thiswouldn’t, however, be possible withoutthe actors’ naturally compellingstyle, which centres our attention onthe stage. This transcendental qualityreaches its apex when suddenly midwaythrough the play the actors slipout of character and you are treatedto their biographies.The play has been marketed as apowerful two-hander between two ofOxford’s heavyweights, and it lives upto its billing, with the actors exhibitinga rich array of acting ability. Burton-Morgan brilliantly captures the bitterconviction of a married woman fallingout of love, while Thomas makesthe sullen irritability of He his own.For a script founded on an introspectiveattack on emotions, it is a shamethat the interpretation did not invitemore contemplative acting. Robertson’sstress on the comic elements ofthe script means the characters neverdevelop beyond the level of caricature,and their relationship as a resultnever really rings true. Nevertheless,as a thoughtful piece of drama, theplay is well worth making time for.ARCHIVE: 3rd week MT 2005

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