The action has already begun as the audience enters the auditorium. Three men all in black are busy putting the final touches to a set with staple guns and drills, creating the illusion of a backstage area which becomes the setting for the action, amidst the comings and goings of the onstage performers. On first appearances, the play seems a typical silent movie pastiche containing well-known slapstick routines. But as things progress, we are privy to the real dreams and desires of the main characters.
We witness problems with ladders and electrical circuits, causing comedic but also devastating results, and we see the relationships unfold between the three stage hands. One is young and headstrong; the second constantly tired and anxious, and the third does as little as possible – apart from eating, whenever he can.
There are many magical moments cleverly played out as the story develops, from the appearance of endless members of the orchestra to the troupe of ballet dancers preparing to perform Swan Lake. We witness opera divas and their male admirers and deadly duelling.
It’s hard to fathom that nearly thirty different characters are created by just three performers. With cleverly deceptive illusions, the three performers are all over the stage, appearing and disappearing in the unlikeliest of places. Not a word passes between the characters, and their very presence and power is dictated by the masks they wear. Their physical movement enhances their expressions, and it’s incredible how much the actors can convey with so little: less is certainly more here. A testament to their ability to engage the audience is that they can even make us feel something for a small stuffed animal.
I won't pretend that I completely understood the final few minutes. In fact, I got a little confused and it didn't quite hang together as smoothly as the rest of the story line. However, that didn't take away from my appreciation of a fantastically skilled cast and an incredibly entertaining piece of theatre. Highly recommended.