first night

Anonymous & Co.

Elissa Churchill discovers a must-see for all bibliophiles.

Appropriately placed in the dignified setting of the Monks Dormitory in the Cathedral, Anonymous & Co. imagines the fictional meeting of the greatest writers who have ever lived: Shakespeare, Byron, Wilde, Eliot and Beckett respectively, with the promise of an original script and score to boot. The vast space, filled with bookshelves, is absolutely bursting at the seams with an aura of academia and suits the piece perfectly.

Running at little more than 30 minutes long, Anonymous & Co. gets straight to the point in introducing the audience to the cast of familiar characters. Given this short running time, it can be forgiven that the authors have become caricatures of themselves, which are on the whole carried off with aplomb by the cast. Rob Symmons’ portrayal of Samuel Beckett must in particular be applauded, demonstrating a high level of comedic effect with seemingly few lines. Director Jonnie Grande’s decision to have Symmons roaming about the dormitory was a lovely touch, as were his violent actions towards the books themselves – although some bibliophiles may have to cover their eyes at this approach towards literature! Henry Morris and Leo Myolandis as Byron and Eliot also put in strong performances, and Rebecca Walbank’s eponymous Anonymous, despite lacking a little warmth to endear her to the audience, also deserves a mention for holding her own against the boys. However, I wasn’t equally as convinced by Michael McLauchlan’s Oscar Wilde. Projection and clarity aren’t always easy in the acoustics of venues such as the Monks Dormitory, and McLauchlan’s effeminate performance, whilst displaying good comic timing in places, was not as droll as I would have liked.

However, the real stars of the show are the script and score, written by Donnchadh O’Conaill and Andrew MacFarlane. The script is acerbic in its wit, and provides many references that any book-lover will revel in. The score complements the script in a wonderfully incongruous manner; the image of Byron and Wilde singing a duet about the beauty of women is one that won’t leave my mind for some time. This continued throughout the show, with the audience finding themselves delightfully surprised every time the very talented Jo Turner began tinkling the ivories. The cast throw themselves into these musical numbers, achieving the perfect level of self-awareness and theatricality needed to carry off a production of this style; this was aided by some marvellously comic choreography. The use of books, in my mind, was of particular note in this instance.

Anonymous & Co. was a treat for the eyes and ears, and I am not surprised that it has been brought back for another run by the World Heritage Centre. I am growing increasingly fond of theatre in Durham that is set outside of conventional venues, and this production captures that perfectly. The performances on the whole are well-pitched, but I struggled to see how they could go too wrong with such high quality material at their disposal. Be that as it may, Anonymous & Co. is a treat for any literature lover, and is most definitely worth a visit.


Elissa Churchill

28 October 2012

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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