Fly on the Wall Production’s Four Men in Their Respective Cells considers to what extent we truly know our reality, through the lens of four men imprisoned both mentally and physically. The play throws up some interesting questions for the audience to consider: Why these men? What have they done? Are they connected? And, most crucially, are they telling the truth, and, if so, can we trust their truth? Throughout the performance, the script, acting, and production combined well to force the audience to confront these issues and question whom their allegiance lies with.
Though there was a tendency towards overacting in the opening scenes, the overall standard of acting was good – Joshua Fine stood out in particular, with an engaging portrayal of a complex character. In terms of the characters themselves, there was an imbalance in the prominence of each in the script. This resulted in one of the characters becoming unnecessary as the play progressed, particularly in the climactic moments. The plot twists were delivered well, for which Eddie Chapman in particular should be commended. At points, however, these plot twists were too obvious, and elsewhere not obvious enough. A lack of character progression over the course of the narrative meant that one twist in particular felt too sudden and broke my suspension of disbelief.
For a play that only lasted 40 minutes, the Burton Taylor Studio was the perfect location for this whistle-stop psychological drama: dark and enclosed, the audience was immediately immersed in an atmosphere of oppressive isolation. This feeling was heightened through the use of dissonant violins before the show, and the sharp delineation of the stage into two halves, for two cells. The set design was clearly well-considered, and effective use of lighting aided understanding as scenes jumped from character to character. A particularly effective decision by Writer/Director Malgorzata Kaczmarek was the use of sound effects at moments of madness and violence – each character’s downward spiral was emphatically punctuated by ominous background noise. Throughout the play I found myself tense with anticipation.
The production team and actors worked throughout the play to create a suspenseful, somewhat claustrophobic environment, and to good effect. However, I cannot help but feel that this build-up was hugely let down by the ending of the play. Although the ending leaves the audience guessing, I did not find it adequately conclusive. The writing felt rushed and unfinished. Full resolution is not required at the end of a play, of course, but in general the audience should not leave thinking, “Was that it?” This was a real shame, and not an adequate testament to the work put into the production in other areas.
For a play with so much promise thematically, I cannot help but be disappointed by Four Men in their Respective Cells. This is not really the fault of the actors, the production team, or the director; rather, is due to the script not quite allowing the engaging, interesting and emotive parts of the play to come to the fore.