How To Act is a two-hander produced by the National Theatre of Scotland and written and directed by Graham Eatough. It begins with a bold claim; theatre is dying. What we consider theatre, what society considers theatre to be, is walking the long and weary road towards oblivion and insignificance. Despite this, young actress Promise (Jade Ogugua) attends renowned thespian Anthony Nicholl’s (Robert Goodale) masterclass in order to continue traditions of acting, and learn new techniques to create reality.
Nicholl is the personification of theatre stereotypes, and as such, comes across as genuine and extremely realistic. You could believe Goodale is about to lead a very real theatre masterclass. Ogugua on the other hand initially doesn’t come across as natural. This dynamic changes significantly throughout the play, until Promise assumes the role of her mother and Nicholl is to act ‘shocked’. It’s a fairly typical National Theatre play: it begins in reality, juxtaposed with dramatic flashbacks, explores race relations within theatre, and finishes with a predictable reveal.
This play comes across as a combination of two completely separate (and more interesting) stories. The masterclass element initially works as a setting for the two characters to meet and confront one another, however half an hour in we know it isn’t real. Once the flashbacks and demonstrations indicate a deep dark secret between the two characters, it feels strange to have them reference the audience. In fact, in the reveal when Nicholl discovered Promise’s identity, his outrage and shock were met with laughter.
Promise’s stories of her mother were increasingly interesting throughout. Ogugua’s performance comes into its own when she physically shows the audience what Promise’s mother was like. Promise’s stories of her mother who danced for tourists to make money, whose life was filled with oil and poverty, and who died trying to earn enough for Promise to leave, is extremely compelling, and it’s a shame to see that story broken up by the masterclass.
If you’re looking for contemporary self-referencing theatre that explores the relationship between Western men and Nigerian women, then this is the play for you.
Words: Catriona Davidson
How To Act, Summerhall, Aug 11-27 (not 14, 21), 1.10pm