'Wood', probably the most hotly anticipated flick of the festival is a play about a film about making a (special kind of) film. The stage is set. It's 1983. A loud-talking director (Philippa Hogg) barks directions at the crew, an assistant is decorating the bed, an actress is adorned in simply lingerie and of course the star of the show is running late. If only he could show up and keep it up. Oh wait, he can't. You heard it hear first, world-famous porn sensation John Rolando (George Fletcher)... can't do his job today.
Onward and (not so) upwards the play proceeds, with a hilarious attempt by John involving a bicycle pump; to really try his best to not get sent home. No movie means no paycheck for him today. He feels truly emasculated today and guess what? His wife, fellow porn star Taylor Bubblegum, is now more in demand than ever. She's the one paying for meals and working every single day, until she's the one supporting their twelve-bedroom mansion in the Hollywood Hills which John knew would always 'be a stretch'.
To my younger readers (and parents of the cast), the porn theme doesn't stick around forever don't you worry. It does however provide a platform to provoke further topics of discussion e.g. consent, race, power relationships, patriarchy and feminism. I have to admit that even before I entered the theatre I did think that women held a lot of power in this area (Marilyn Monroe, Brigette Bardot, Playboy models and co) but this play did make me again think of the ability to pay women less for the same jobs, even in porn. If Judy Garland was the lowest paid actor of 'The Wizard of Oz', I wonder how much Marilyn Monroe was probably owed in her era. But hey that's a topic for another post.
Suddenly our suburban cosy restaurant in the Hollywood Hills crumbles, as the waitress gets a bit too carried away with the tidying procedures. It's not long before the accents follow suit and we're not in a glamorous American 'Picture' anymore, but with British actors in a rehearsal room roughly three weeks before their show opens. Our tight-knit cast are back to the drawing board, experimenting with their casting choices, with our trusty, smile-plastered waitress (Nnenka Okoye) volunteering herself to try John's scenes.
As an actor, I did enjoy these candid (well candid enough) snippets of the rehearsals and found it a brilliant structural twist in the plot. I must add at this point that our cast is a group of four, with one male. The male playing the lead John, and now the writer behind the piece he describes as tackling 'toxic masculinity'. It cleverly showed the audience that sadly not much has changed since the porn era of the 1980s to the fringe rehearsals of 2019 London, with the male still possessing sole control of the piece. Our one male continues to watch on as the other three women switch with gender-blind casting experiments and he still manages to capture the audience's attention, as Fletcher captures the uncomfortableness felt by the writer watching on as the show deviates from his vision.
One actor in rehearsal, Philippa exclaims that 'there is so many more exercises we can do to play with the choices more' and I totally agree with the piece, I wanted to see more women tackle the male role on offer and think that the play in general only did 'scratch the surface' of what it wanted to achieve.
'Wood' ended very swiftly at 50 minutes long and I am not lying (or acting) when I say I could've watched a whole two hour show of the piece. Or even a sequel? It ended too quickly, or dare I say abruptly. The ideas that were brought to the surface were combined with fantastic direction, stylish décor and a truly stellar cast who worked as a well-oiled machine. I know what I'm waiting to see next year!