Villon 29th January 2018 – Write-up by Catriona Gillham
The first item on the agenda was a selection of extracts from AnUntraditional American Vacation, a tongue-in-cheek play by Michael Watson that pokes fun at cultural stereotypes and explores the linguistic and cultural challenges faced by tourists and locals in even the most mundane of exchanges (checking into a hotel or ordering a meal at a restaurant, for example). The short episodes shared by the group at the Cafe Villon evening had been edited and workshopped by a team in collaboration with Michael himself - and the small cast made a brave effort at presenting us with a fast-paced barrage of slapstick jokes, having rehearsed the scenes just once. Given the number of characters entering and fleeing the ‘stage area’ in a Faulty Towers-like chaos, some of the actors had the additional challenge of making snappy role switches between – or in the middle of – scenes. No doubt some more rehearsal time would have made the quick exchanges – in which the characters’ confused reactions to unexpected situations are key – a little less stilted and all the more entertaining, but the presentation garnered more than a few laughs from the audience.
The evening took on a slightly more sombre tone as a somewhat smaller cast tackled an extract from the mysterious piece Rashomon, based on the eponymous 1950 film by Akira Kurosawa, which was itself based on the story ‘In a Grove’ by the 19th-century Japanese writer Ry?nosuke Akutagawa. In the play – as in the film – the audience is transported back and forth between a courthouse, where three or four characters give conflicting (albeit somewhat overlapping) accounts of a crime that has been committed, and the grove where that crime is supposed to have taken place, as the actors play out reconstructions of those different accounts. To director Giampaolo Spedo, the grey area between truth, partial truth and falsehood is the most important feature of the play, as this is what gives the story the potential to arouse curiosity and even confusion in the audience, who are left to play detective and piece together the various details. Given the time restraints of the Cafe Villon evening, the audience was presented with just one version of events (that of the culprit – a bandit), but it certainly had the desired effect: some people were more convinced than others, and one or two members of the audience even responded with outright indignation to the alleged version of events. Many, of course, were curious one day to see – and compare and contrast – the alternative narratives
To end the evening with some comic relief, John Brigg and Suzanne Larsen presented the play Pontifically Yoursby Corinne Sinclair, one of the prize-winners of the 2017 LEAPA playwriting competition, featuring a perplexed American woman who has come to Rome as a tourist only to find herself at the receiving end of romantic advances from the Pope, disillusioned with Papal life. The subject matter serves, obviously, as fertile ground for plenty of gags as the audience watch the confused protagonist slowly come to believe that her mysterious admirer really is who he says he is. It was clear that the piece was thoroughly rehearsed – the dialogue ran smoothly and the comic timing was on point. Corinne Sinclair was in for a surprise herself: in a pre-prepared experiment, John and Suzanne followed up the sketch with an alternative version of events (Ry?nosuke Akutagawa would be proud), asking the question: what if it wasn’t really the Pope at all?