Sunday, January 24, 2010

'Six Degrees of Separation' at the Old Vic

‘It all depends on the production’, said the programme seller when I expressed my dismay. Gone was the lovely theatre-in-the-round space created for the performances of Alan Aykbourne’s Norman Conquest trilogy, still in place for ‘Complicit’, starring Richard Dreyfuss. In its place was an awkward three-tiered horseshoe.

A recent TV advert for American Airlines shows the theatre’s artistic director Kevin Spacey in what I assumed was a pre-conversion Old Vic. Cooing about how he appreciated good service his onscreen persona transferred from the dress circle to his seat in AA business class (Currently to be see in the new George Clooney ‘comedy’ ‘Up in the Air, in case you didn’t catch Spacey) I wish I could say the same about my own experience at last Thursday’s matinee for ‘Six Degrees of Separation’.

Instead, my seat on the right hand leg gave me an excellent view of the audience on the opposite side. To see the stage I had to turn through ninety degrees. I wasn’t too far from a kind of a red-coloured bowl sliced down the middle, which was to be the acting space. Maybe the symbolism was apt to suggest the cosseted world of the Manhattan art-dealing protagonists in their apartment high above Central Park. It did nothing at all for the sound, which seemed to be absorbed by the walls, but then I was hardly giving it both ears, skewed round as I was.

I’d seen the 1993 film of the same name, and remembered it as a chatty but intriguing piece. The ‘six degrees’ of the title, refers to the notion of the interconnection of everybody through six steps of acquaintance, like a giant facebook matrix. Based on the true story of a con man, also suggests the rich easy prey to those who’d take advantage of their gullibility.

A young man (Obi Abili) turns up at the apartment claiming to know their children at Harvard. He certainly seems familiar with the details of their lives. Further he says he’s Sydney Poitier’s son so can get them into the movies. The Kittredge’s (Anthony Head and Lesley Manville) fall for his story and they are not the only ones.

Slick direction and acting carries John Guare’s clever critique of several targets: the commoditisation of art (there’s a huge Kandinsky on display throughout) the ingratitude of pampered offspring, contemporary celebrity-worship and how privileged guilt makes the rich vulnerable to scams.

It's enjoyable and witty enough if you haven't seen the film, which is better. Just make sure your seat points towards the stage.

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