Situated in a small room at the back of the White Bear pub in Kennington, the White Bear Theatre Club offers an interesting and intimate setting to experience theatre. They focus on “new writing and Lost Classics” with the aim “to nurture talent, extend possibilities and offer a space where risks can be taken”’.
Their current production, It’s All True, written by Canadian playwright Jason Sherman and directed by David Cottis, is based on the true story of events leading up to the opening night of Mark Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock. Due to the withdrawal of government support Blitzstein’s play, directed by Orson Welles and produced by John Housman, was forbidden to open, theatre doors locked and actors banned from appearing on stage. Sherman’s It’s All True charts the development of Blitzstein’s musical, from Welles agreeing to direct, through casting and rehearsals to the opening night where the audience walked 20 blocks to an empty theatre where the actors played their roles from their seats. Effectively intertwined through this main story are glimpses into the lives of those involved and the effects these have on the play.
The performance space is so close to the actors that you can see every emotion…
The simple and minimalistic set is effective, focusing attention on the actors, their words and characters they portray rather than on unnecessarily elaborate sets. This simplicity is seen in transitions between past and present, where changes in lighting are all it takes to seamlessly transport the audience and characters into a memory or the past. The intimate setting suits this play extremely well. The performance space is so close to the actors that you can see every emotion and, at times, the actors would sit among the audience. While this in some respects mirrors the real opening night of The Cradle Will Rock, this also means that the audience feels they are a part of the play, in amongst the commotion, excitement and action.
The opening scene is an exciting and action filled beginning to the play with Welles, Housman and Blitzstein arguing; clearly frustrated by events that are conspiring against them. The audience are thrown into the midst of the action, enhanced by the close proximity of actors and audience, and are carried along through the trials of their theatre production. Throughout the play Sherman has instantly evoked the period and captured fascinating personalities with fast-paced and comic dialogue. Welles in particular is charismatic and dynamic. Although the play focuses on Blitzstein’s play, It’s All True is multi-layered, not simply concentrating on the putting together of the play, but the people behind it.
…magic can happen without all these theatrics…
The cast of six is strong, with compelling performances from Edward Elgood (Orson Welles) and Robert Durbin (Howard Da Silva) in particular. Loriel Medynski and Elizabeth Guterbock play multiple roles successfully and effortlessly move between characters.
Overall, It’s All True portrays the necessity of art and rights of expression under the threat of censorship, the courage needed and sacrifices made to fight for what you believe in. Poignantly, at the beginning of the play while describing his vision of elaborate sets for the musical, Welles says that the audience “expect more than a bare stage; they expect magic”. By the end of the play what emerges is that magic can happen without all these theatrics, but can be made with determination, passion and a belief in their art.