"Proposition, dilemma, response." That's theatre, according to Anthony Nicholl, the world-renowned actor who's giving a masterclass today. So, what do we have here then?
Proposition: Nicholl gives a focused lesson in acting to enthusiastic student, Promise. He encourages her to dig into her history, to mine it for drama. Robert Goodale is spot on as the the avuncular, respected expert, bumbling but assured. Jade Ogugua excels as the nervous (at first), compliant Promise. Both give the necessary spontenaity to Graham Eatough's script.
Dilemma: Nicholl is white, male, of means. Promise is black, female. She was born in Nigeria but fled with her mother to England in the hope of escaping their corrupt, exploited, polluted home. Nicholl is in charge and pushes Promise into uncomfortable territory. Promise goes along with it, at first willingly and, increasingly, reluctantly.
It's uncomfortable, sure. But theatre is about having the space to explore this stuff, right? It's an egalitarian platform for finding the truth, right? The same sort of truth that Nicholl found all those years ago on a field trip to Africa. There, in a circle in the bush, they experienced real theatre, a ritual unsullied by the chaos of Western life, and the artifice of our theatre.
Response: fireworks. Central to How to Act are issues of ownership and power. Who owns the territory and the resources – the stage being both of those things? Through whose lens is truth seen? If this all sounds laid on thick, it's not, and that's the strength here. Eatough's production leads us through wide-eyed enthusiasm at the start of the masterclass. Cracks start to appear, but we brush them off, until Promise's discomfort becomes untenable and things fall apart. There's a slighty off ending – symbolic where all else has been naturalistic. But it's just a way of pulling the escape chord. By that point, the train has been wrecked. Transformative.