Intense. That’s how I—and those in the rows behind me—would best describe the performance of James Johnson’s The Audition I attended on a fabulous opening night. With a cast of just two, a single setting and themes including rape, drug abuse and suicide, The Audition seemed like it might be a painful few hours, but the performance managed to grip my heart and bring it to my mouth while simultaneously making me laugh.
Aspiring actress Lauren (Claire Wiskind) hopes that the titular audition will land her the part of Ophelia in Hamlet. However, Director Stella (Shonagh Smith) does not make it easy for her through an unconventional audition process, designed to weed out the mentally weak and, in fact, make them even weaker. As the audition ‘tests’ grow darker and more twisted, all emotion is sucked from Lauren’s body and Stella is left with what she has always wanted: a puppet on which she can impose her ideas, not an actress.
Shonagh played Stella—in the best way possible—very creepily. Her ability to jump from dark plot twists to humour created a powerful performance that left the audience constantly uncertain about what lay beyond the next turn. Claire’s performance must also be recognized. Her depiction of Lauren as a spoilt and scarred girl who allows herself to be moulded into the vision of another is fantastic. The second act in particular was a credit to both young actresses’ talents as they took on emotionally powerful scenes, including a game of Russian roulette that had me covering my eyes.
My only criticism is of the writing itself. Particularly in understanding the development of Lauren’s love for Stella, I felt there was insufficient elaboration. Whilst the acting was great, the plot leap to a relationship of unrequited love came much too fast for me. However, the most unsettling aspect of the play as a whole was its circular nature. In the final moments we see Stella prepare her audition room as she did at the beginning of the first act and another actress walk in suggesting that this is a process Stella repeats time and time again. This chilling moment and the plot’s many twists and turns more than make up for this small moment that lacks in plot development.
Director Katie Scott, Producer Tomasz Hollanek and Technical Director Rachel Horrocks are evidently a fabulous team when put together. With such limited space, The Audition team did well to use the entire room as their stage. The use of the spotlight was also a clever move as it allowed the audience to focus on not just the strongest scenes but also on the actresses’ strongest performances. Although there were some minor technical glitches, I would put this down to first night jitters rather than a lack of talent from any member of this team.
Photo credit: Ben Anderson