The main problem with The Architect is the play. Ostensibly, it focuses on the life of the has-been architect, Leo Black (Dom Applewhite), who is stuck building car-parks as his marriage collapses around him. The playwright claims the play to be a comment on the tragic naivety of architects of the 60s whose motives and passion were well-founded, but whose methods were wrong.
Sadly, this message barely comes through. There are too many storylines for any to be developed effectively. At the end of the first act, these multiple plotlines looked as though they had the potential to feed into each other. However, they didn’t. The subplots pursuing Leo’s children worked in complete isolation, causing an oversaturation of story that left no character explored.
Some plot elements are simply unresolved. The title-character’s daughter (Lily Erskine) has moments of retching and sickness that are left unexplained. We are given no emotional cause for the breakdown of Leo’s marriage. One is rather left wondering why Leo married his wife – a woman as neurotic as an unfunny Woody Allen – in the first place. Ultimately, we know as little about the motivations of the characters at the close of the play as we do at the beginning.
Unfortunately, the play wasn’t redeemed by the performances. Having seen and enjoyed Applewhite greatly in The Pillowman, his performance as the frustrated Leo was, frankly, disappointing. He was flat and unexciting, not really examining the frustrations of middle age that the role suggested. Problems with shaky lines and missed entrances and exits (during a dinner table row, his chair was empty whilst he delivered his lines from above the stage) were, I hope, opening night glitches. His wife, Paulina (Helen Wilson), was played well given the limitations of the role. However, again having seen Wilson’s excellent Anita in West Side Story, it was a shame that her character didn’t give any scope for a nuanced performance.
A genuine high point of the play, however, was Jack Clover’s lorry driver, Joe. He milked the character’s Pinteresque pauses for their maximum comic value. Lonely on the road and picking up hitchhikers for companionship, it was a shame that his character didn’t see more stage-time.
Another glimmer of greatness came in the form of Abby Clarke’s unquestionably brilliant sets. The stage, divided between suburban kitchen, car park, lorry and diner followed the multiple storylines ingeniously. The use of two levels was sharp. In the second act, however, the storylines moved slightly too quickly for the unsteady opening-night cast to keep up with the cleverness of the set. Nonetheless, this does have the potential to look really slick later in the run.
I must end this review with the caveat that it is never nice to have to be negative about a student production. All student theatre requires a lot of hard work and commitment that the performers had undoubtedly given. However, despite the effort put in, I sadly cannot recommend this play.
PHOTO/The Architect publicity