The play ‘Devil in the Detail’ by Toby Wilsher tells of a devious landlady and her ambitious daughter who attempt to make ends meet by renting out a small apartment in a run-down part of town. In order to make more money from the dingy space, they manage to let the flat to two men who never meet, as one works by day, and the other by night. The catalyst for hilarity comes when one of the men returns home early due to a hangover.
The new company MetaMorpho who staged the production, affiliated to the New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth entertains through the use of theatrical techniques that will “surprise, delight, challenge and enthral”. The basis for their performance was to use music, masks and choreography to tell the story, which was effective for in the beginning, but I felt that it later became less satisfying. I was desperate for the true voices of the characters to come forth, though, in fairness, it would have been very difficult with large masks on.
The masks themselves were, in my opinion, a distraction as they diverted the audience’s attention from the movements the actors were doing. On the other hand, the use of oversized masks was essential to the distinct style of the play when conveying expression.
In complete contrast with the play’s comic centre was the sudden use of death and brutality, playing upon human greed and deceit. Tiny mice were bashed on tables and dogs fed poison, later squashed on window frames. Not a single character was left alive by curtain call, though it was at times difficult to tell whether the deaths were portrayed as comic or sinister.
One aspect I can’t fault is the number of props available to the cast, adding to the storytelling and providing a genuine sense of how dismal and depressing the lifestyle was of all characters featured. The scenery itself was vivid, imaginative and well used by all cast members. The stage was used fully, as were side doors and under stage boxes. This managed to set the tone for the performance, largely assisted by various pieces of music to help establish mood and intention of actions.
Although much of the audience appeared incredibly impressed with the performance, it wasn’t quite right for me. Perhaps I’m too unaccustomed to his type of theatre, and coming from a musical theatre background I’m too used to jazz hands, belting mezzos and sparkly costumes.
Antonia Hawken (Features Editor)