Photo courtesy of Nuffield Theatre, taken from hereDirector: Michael Longhurst Designer: Tom Scutt Cast: John Shrapnel, Lex Shrapnel
How could a show with only 4 characters (3 of them are played by one person) and a bare design keep me on the edge of my seat for 55 minutes?
Well, A Number did.
The story begins with a man who makes a gruesome discovery: he’s only one of a number of clones. Shocked, he asked his father for confirmation, only to find more truths than he could possibly handle. The story then revolves around the emotion of the characters as they learn truth after truth.
What should I say about this show? For one thing, this show is completely different compared to other shows that I’ve seen. An hour before it started, the ushers were given radios and led to a door marked ‘Private’, which brought us to what was usually used as the stage, revealing that it had been transformed to a mini ‘auditorium’. The ‘stage’, is a four-sided glass box in the center, allowing the audience to see the show from one of the sides. Since the doors of each side (or ‘bay’ as we call it) will be closed once the performance starts, it’s impossible for the duty manager to supervise, thus the radio (“The blind’s open” or “Everyone’s seated in bay one” and so on and so forth). There’s no interval, so I only have to run just after it ends to sell stuff (instead of sneaking out before the interval and sneaking in a few minutes after the second part starts).
Okay, back to the show. The father (Salter) and sons (Bernard (B1), Bernard (B2), and Michael Black) are played by John and Lex Shrapnel, also a father and son in the real life. The set is not an eye-candy, and the wardrobe is just casual, making this play relies heavily of the interaction and dialogue between the characters. And hats off to Lex Shrapnel who successfully delivers the change of the three characters through distinctive gestures and emotions, without having to change his clothes once. The intensity of the conversations makes me glued on my seat throughout the whole performance. This is the kind of show which you have to focus really hard on, as you’ll miss a big chunk of the story if you’re spaced out for a few seconds (which reminds me of math class in high school, where I’d miss the steps if I went blank for seconds).
The story itself is brilliant. In 55 minutes, Salter reveals a series of truths that are not only unanticipated, but also disturbing. With convincing performances, the father-son duo kept me enthralled throughout the show, and somehow they still lingered in my mind a few hours after that (even after I saw it for the third time!). Kinda spooky, but in a good way.
I never thought that a show with bare design and casual wardrobe would thrill me this far, but A Number is different in so many ways. If I have to live with three words to describe this show, they would be: brilliant, intense, and powerful.
It’s one of the most gripping performances I’ve ever seen. And from now on, I’ve officially become the Shrapnels’ new fan.
P.S. If you haven’t seen the show, go grab your ticket fast as it’s only gonna be in the Nuffield Theatre until this Saturday.
P.P.S. Yesterday I went to the Q&A session after the show. I wandered around the Shrapnels after the session, trying to bring up the courage to ask them for a picture. After being encouraged by the duty manager (“Come on, go ask them! They’re really nice actors”), I finally approached Lex and asked him for a picture. He’s so friendly that I instantly forgot why I’d been so afraid to ask before. This photo totally made my day. And I’m still psyched until now.
One little trivia: In the original play, Michael Gambon and Daniel Craig played as the father and son.