Theatre sans frontiers
UK Touring Theatre, currently in Dubai to stage a black comedy, Abigail’s Party, at Madinat Theatre through Sept. 22, takes British theatre out of its confines to a wider world. Their first destination has been the Middle East. Rajeev Nair writes
Two years of a touring theatre and already into its second play in Dubai – that is the mark of the response UK Touring Theatre has elicited. The Middle East has, indeed, been one great stage for them starting with Qatar, Bahrain and now, Dubai.
Commercial, accessible theatre is the bottom line of UK Touring Theatre, founded in April 2003 by Libby Machin. It takes classic and contemporary plays to English speaking audiences in a range of worldwide venues.
UKTT flagged off their Dubai season with The Woman in Black, and after the second play, Abigail’s Party, to be staged through Sept. 22, they will end the season with Private Lives in November before returning with probably a Shakespeare play next year.
Abigail’s Party is a funny, black comedy adapted from the 1977 television piece by Mike Leigh. There are only five characters, and notably, Abigail never makes an appearance. The play centres on Beverly and Laurence, who have invited their new neighbours Angela and Tony to a welcome party. Susan is another invitee, whose daughter Abigail is holding her own party three doors away. Starting off with small talk and niceties, the play moves on to the strains in the relationship between Beverly and Laurence, and Susan’s anxiety about Abigail before ending in a “shocking climax.”
Machin says the play’s 1977 setting is not a deterrent in communicating to the Dubai audience. “Perhaps, ten years ago, the play might have jarred. But now, 1977 is a long way into the past. It is like doing a Shakespeare. If the story, situations and characters work, the play touches audiences. I hope they (the audience) understand the characters. The play is quite a classic in terms of the clothing, sets and other accessories, and we have a perfect visual comedy on hand.”
She is particularly pleased with performing at Madinat Theatre. “Running a theatre company, for me to have a proper theatre in the Middle East is simply wonderful. Madinat Theatre is amazing; it has great acoustics and we have sets designed in London put up with a production team that works closely with us.”
In bringing a play from one part of the world to the other, UK Touring Theatre works the play to suit the audiences. For Dubai, with its cosmopolitan crowd, the group makes the plays very energetic with a lot of movement on stage.
With over 19 years in theatre, Machin says that despite the preponderance of television and cinema, theatre is here to say. “Theatre is live; it happens now and the audience is part of the action. It makes for a special and unique experience for both the actor and the audience,” she says.
The strong allure of the stage is predominant in the cast too. Mario Vernazza, who plays Laurence, has just completed shooting for Da Vince Code with Tom Hanks; Adam Scott (Tony) comes to Dubai from the Edinburgh Festival having starred in the critically acclaimed production, Parade. Tess Dignan (Angela) is a West End regular and international voice coach; and Amanda Osborne (Susan) has just returned from starring at the English Speaking Theatres in Frankfurt and Vienna. Machin has many television credits including Make My Day, Shelly, Casualty and The Bill.
Vernazza says the passion for theatre is what often drives many actors to do television. “The theatre is very much an actor’s medium. In television and cinema, many decisions are made by somebody else. With plays, you step on to the stage and it is yours. You are in charge, and that is different every night. You invent the journey every time you make it.”
He says the Da Vince Code film experience was “fabulous” but essentially, it wasn’t much different from doing a big play. “Inside, it is the same; everything is part of the technique and craft.”
The level of artistic commitment to touring theatre is the same as with any other mass entertainment media, says Adam Scott. “You are away from friends and home. You must make a quick relationship with the people around you and understand their needs very fast.” Of course, it also gives the opportunity to travel. Three weeks ago he had a hoarse throat, feeling mellow in a rainy Edinburgh. Now, he is in sunny Dubai.
The cast say Abigail’s Party will be a bleak comedy, where the characters don’t think they are comic but are real, reasonable people. But in them, the audience discovers the laughter. “It is essentially five ordinary characters with some extraordinary happenings on stage,” says Machin.
And much to UK Touring Theatre’s delight, they discover that Abigail works in the Middle East as much as in Britain because very often humanity speaks one language of emotions.
(UK Touring Theatre can be accessed at http://www.uktt.net; tickets to the play are priced Dhs125 and are available at the Theatre Box Office, Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Doors open at 7.30 pm; show commences at 8.30 pm)