Travelling Light is a new play by Nicholas Wright, produced at the National Theater UK) and broadcast to cinemas across the UK and around the world during February 2012 as part of National Theatre Live. The play is part of what seems to be the fashion at present in that it is an homage to early film and contains a film, or rather, films, within the play.
Forty years on, Motl Mendl, a famous American film director, looks back on his early life in a remote village in Eastern Europe. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the young Mendl is captivated by the flickering silent images on his father’s cinematograph. Jacob, the ebullient local timber merchant finances his first film and, inspired by Anna, the girl sent to help him make moving pictures of their village, he invents the art of editing and finds a new way of story-telling. The plays switches back and forth between the projected film that Menl is making and the cast of villagers involved in the production of the film.
I saw a delayed HD showing at the Lensic Theater, Santa Fe, and therefor experienced a film within a play within a film. A neat conceit in theory but in reality the filming of the performance only served to show in close-up the “staginess” of the production and the clumsiness of the acting.
The first few minutes teetered between hope for improvement and despair that the production was not going to take wing. The entrance of Antony Sher settled the matter. Playing Jacob, the rich timber merchant, he seemed to be channeling Tevye from Fidler in the Roof with over-the-top single-mindedness that unbalanced the production beyond redemption. Charmless acting by the majority of the rest of the cast of Jewish stereotypes, led by Damien Malony as Mendl Motl, failed engage any empathy for the characters under the uninspired direction of Nicholas Hytner. Only Lauren O’Neil as Anna, provided a single spark of the radiance that the others lacked.