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New Era Players - Behind the Masque

22nd June to 1st July 2023

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

New Era Players rise to a new challenge

On Thursday, June 22, New Era Players began the first of two weekends of their thought-provoking double-bill Behind The Masque. Liars’ Teeth and Aria da Capo are contemporary one-act plays that would sit well in a dystopian anthology series such as Inside No 9 or Black Mirror.

Written by Reading-based playwright Emily Goode, Liars’ Teeth is a timely short that tackles the nature of truth, set in a prison for those who question the approved narrative.

Pies is a permanently hungry fool whose naiveté belies a greater intelligence. A self-confessed liar, he occupies his ominous cell with Jack, a European storyteller (a higher-level liar), who defies the State Truths, in search of his own.

Sean Strange’s affable Pies is a larger than life, blustering Harlequin, happy in his ignorance, content to blindly follow the rules. While Parry Bates’ performance of Jack is subtly commanding, finding truth in each new idea.

Together the duo bring power to an intriguing play, with a strong premise that perhaps gets a little muddled towards the end, but it’s no less enjoyable for that.

Our Act Two, Aria Da Capo, is more apparently from the Commedia Del’ Arte tradition, opening with Columbina and Pierrot in a traditional Harlequinade.

Neil Dewdney and Jacqui Trumper give an excellent interpretation of coarse acting, vamping and posing their way through a satire on contemporary consumerism.

An Aria Da Capo is an operatic form, in three parts, in which the beginning and end are similar and the middle contrasting. And so it is that the action is disrupted by a new scene that is not directly connected to the beginning, but perhaps is thematically so.

Parry Bates returns to the stage, now in comic mode, alongside Steve Schollar, the two of them capering through an affective parable of selfishness and greed.

Act Three sees the return of Columbina and Pierrot, who try to re-cover the scene, quite literally, before the Director Cothurnous (based on Magnifico, the highest character in Commedia) slams his book shut, closing the fait-accompli.

Suzanne Pearson’s directorial debut makes a good job of a complicated script, her clever use of projection really serves to emphasise the uneasiness created by the constant sales chatter of social media and, finally how we are perhaps all being watched and controlled.

As an evening of theatre, this is not easy going, but here are two excellently presented plays, directed with creativity, and performed with great skill.

New Era players have entertained and challenged audiences for 45 years, and they show no signs of slowing down or taking the soft option.

Long may it continue.