If this is the start of 2010 for theatre, then I will quite happily enjoy the rest of the year. Six Degrees of Separation at The Old Vic is simply superb, directed by David Grindley and written by John Guare, it is a feisty and wildly funny production.
It takes a few minutes to adjust to the style of Grindley’s direction – the direct address to the audience is a little disconcerting at first. Also the extremely fast and overlapping of text between Lesley Manville as Ouisa Kittredge and Anthony Head as Fran Kittredge takes a moment to tune into. Yet once you begin to relax into this fast paced tale you soon start to find the commentary amusing and absurd.
John Guare’s play is based around the idea that we are only ever six people away from a certain someone. So, we are all through knowing someone who knows someone, etc six people away from everyone and anyone. We all know each other, we are all related and together we make one unit. This is the basis of six degrees of separation.
When Fran Kittredge an art dealer, and his wife Ouisa Kittredge are entertaining their rich friend in the hope of an investment in the latest Cezanne to go on the art market, their night is interrupted by the arrival of Paul played by Obi Alibi who has been mugged and stabbed. Paul is a friend of the Kittredge’s children, who speaks highly about the family and their home, and ends up entertaining them after being cleaned up and given a new shirt. Are things exactly as they seem? Not quite. In the morning Ouisa finds Paul in the middle of a sexual act with another man in the bedroom, who turns out to be a rent boy.
The story unfolds that it would appear that the Kittredge’s were not the only ones to be lured into believing this Paul’s mugging story and invite him inside for safety. Targeting the rich, each of the families involved have a connection through their children… so who is the mystery con artist appearing to be a friend of the family?
The casting in Six Degrees of Separation of Manville and Head as the leading characters is perfect. They play of each other as the rich couple taken a mock by the con artist. They bounce off each other and interject the text amongst themselves in such a vigorous manner that it is almost head spinning. Yet equally this dialogue is delivered in such an absurd manner that the whole thing becomes somewhat of a farce.
Grindley’s direction is snappy, and suits the text of Guare brilliantly in producing a fast paced and action packed drama. At times the direction turns the drama into mockery, yet this is delightfully laugh out loud material. Through repetition, stylised movement and direction Grindley creates a thrilling production.
Hats off to Alibi for his acting in the production, as a recent graduate from RADA he is flawless in his portray of the boy who wants to be something he will never be.
I didn’t think much to the set design by Jonathan Fensom, a simple sofa, small table and odd props – and the moving walls only allowed for exits and entrances. But then Six Degrees of Separation doesn’t need to rely upon a realistic set – it revolves around the fast paced dialogue and storyline.
I can’t remember the last time I laughed so freely during a production. A true delight.
Be warned though, not everyone will appreciate Grindely’s production – I’m certainly not sure what the Old Vic regular audience members will think of this witty drama. If anything, Six Degrees of Separation is bound to keep you on your toes – packed for of surprises including some unexpected nudity – BRILLIANT.
Six Degrees of Separation is running at the Old Vic Theatre until 3rd April 2010, book online on their website.