The Door, the REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 17th May, 2016
Stan’s Café continues to be one of the most creative and surprising theatre companies – in Birmingham, at least! Each show is different and, in this respect, their latest offering is no different – if you see what I mean.
Set in Winnebago on a film set, we meet make-up artist Sue (Alexis Tuttle) and upcoming movie star Kate (Emily Holyoake) and follow their relationship by eavesdropping on their conversations. While they talk, Sue applies make-up to Kate – instead of a mirror, Kate’s face is projected large on the back wall. It is endlessly fascinating to watch an artist at work – the piece is co-devised by the cast alongside make-up artist Andrew Whiteoak. Tuttle has evidently been well schooled. A relationship develops between the two women, the kind of short-lived but intimate relationship that occurs in showbiz, when people come together but only for the duration of a project. It is also the kind of relationship familiar from trips to the hairdresser, for example. We tend to open up to people who approach our heads and faces with sharp objects.
Sudden changes in Simon Bond’s lighting signal changes of conversation. The play keeps us on our toes as Sue and Kate become other people in each other’s lives: Kate takes a phone call from her mother, her agent… Sue speaks to her estranged daughter… Gradually, a fractured picture emerges, a piecemeal portrait of each woman’s life, and so, while there is no overt plot, we do chart what their lives are like, personally and professionally, beyond the confines of the Winnebago. The Winnebago itself is delineated by a framework, an illuminated outline that brings to mind the lightbulbs around a dressing-room mirror – a brilliant idea simply and effectively realised by designer Harry Trow. The lights add glitz and also warmth to proceedings.
Director James Yarker keeps the performances naturalistic, almost down-played in some instances; we are credited with intelligence enough to work out which conversation we are earwigging at any given moment. This channel-flicking or radio-tuning effect makes the piece disjointed but ultimately enables it to deliver its most poignant moment, when Sue receives an award for her contribution.
Both actors deliver, with Tuttle being the most obviously versatile, although Holyoake’s role is differently impressive, being confined to the chair as she is, having to signal her range of characters from the neck up, her face writ large behind her. Which says something about the differences between stage and screen acting, I suppose.
The play puts in the spotlight moments that usually happen off-screen. The faces Sue applies to Kate, the faces Kate is forced to adopt in her private life, when getting papped, for example. Subtly, rather than overtly, it suggests we should think about the masks we wear and for what reasons. A bit of a slow-burner, Made Up’s whole is more than the sum of its parts. What it lacks in direct punch, it delivers in gentle and amusing discourse.