Cameron Scheijde reviews StudioSpace's Andorra at the Wickham Theatre
Political theatre is very tricky to get right. Often, a play can set off attempting to convey one message and end up portraying another entirely. To make an audience think and consider views from standpoints they may have not considered before is, in my opinion, the principal goal of political theatre.
StudioSpace's Andorra was unapologetically political. The extent to which it achieved this goal is perhaps questionable, purely due to the lack of ability to build a world. However, several truly exceptional performances elevated the show which (almost) made up for this fact.
The show is set in the fictional country of Andorra, where clear nationalist parallels can be drawn with many real states that have existed or continue to do so today. It was originally written in German so the success of the translation, by German and Portuguese student Peter Borsada, cannot be understated. The speech flowed well and it was, generally, easy to follow. We are introduced to the principal characters, defined mainly by their vocation, throughout. The main storyline tracks the experiences of the sole 'Jew' of the town, Andri, and his experiences of antisemitism, abuse and victimisation.
The cast were simply phenomenal
Moments of directorial brilliance shine through; the interspersion of interview-esque soliloquies by cast members, foreshadowing Andri's demise, is a wonderful touch. The way that director Dylan Sutcliffe paces the show is also impressive and makes the build up of each act sufficiently satisfying.
The cast themselves are simply phenomenal. Whilst I started the show somewhat doubting the wisdom behind casting Adam Parsons as Andri, he soon put my concerns to bed. Parsons' performance is nuanced and delicate, though I never truly buy his love for his sister, Barblin. Other remarkable performances are those of Alicia Wakeling and Sally Toynton. They keep up the parody and dark humour of the play's dystopic setting, but avoid undermining the sombre mood. Toyton's development in particular is extraordinary; in act one her portrayal of the landlady is genuinely funny, however as the second act progresses her painful cries and desperate wails create the atmosphere and yet do not once undermine her character. It is a considerable achievement. Charlie Mitchell also deserves a mention, for it can not be easy to force onceself into the feet of such a deeply disturbing role. However, he accomplished it well.
The main problem I had with this show was not, therefore, one of the individual performers or even of the director. It was that I never got the message. In his Director's Note, Sutcliffe says "the terminology within this play has been carefully chosen, and the political implications were seriously considered throughout this production". However, in keeping the 'Jewishness' of Andri as the discriminating factor, the play unavoidably becomes a comment on antisemitism. Yet, the only mention of the operation of the Jewish faith was one use of the word "Rabbi".
We didn't get a backstory to any of the discriminating attitudes and thus couldn't really truly or deeply consider the play's messages
There was never any true explanation behind the country's antisemitic attitudes other than the transient presence of a 'higher place' where "Jew checks" are conducted. I feel that the entire performance missed a trick in not focusing more on, as Sutcliffe said, "the political implications". As we didn't get a backstory to any of the discriminating attitudes, we couldn't really truly or deeply consider the play's messages - of which there were plenty. Similarly and, as a result of this, I never truly felt I was in Andorra's world.
On the other side to that, however, the lighting design was very good and the set was simple yet brutally effective. Coupled with Sutcliffe's intelligent directing, it made for an extremely visually impressive show. The underscore also coupled the action beautifully and this paired well with the cast's truly exceptional ability to tell a story. Therefore I cannot fault the production team's ability to create an atmosphere. What I thought they struggled more with was creating a three-dimensional, moving, breathing and real-life "world" that we, the audience, could be a part of.
The piece had some excellent performances but as a piece of political theatre, it leaves a lot to be desired. However, aesthetically, and as a story, Andorra is still a very impressive show that moved and disturbed me in equal measure.
What did you think of Andorra? Let us know in the comments below or on social media