Wood is hilarious and intelligently executed meta-theatre, highlighting the power of privilege in porn, theatre, and of course, the rest of the world.
In 1983 San Fernando Valley, John Rolando is a porn star at the peak of his career. That is, until one day, he struggles to reach his infamous peak. A group of actors rehearse a play about Rolando’s fall from grace, and we watch as the action interweaves between the play in question and the actors’ discussions about its development.
Wood explores gender, race and toxic masculinity – and is playful yet sleek in its execution of such. Adam Foster’s structure works fantastically for the intention; peeling back layers to shed a light on contrasting experiences. The cast, four incredibly competent actors, navigate weaving in and out of story tiers with finesse. By frequently breaking down the worlds they construct, the audience are allowed insight into multi-faceted experiences – and the team succeed in highlighting the power of privilege in porn, in theatre, and of course, the rest of the world. At such a short running time, it’s a feat that the team manage so much with such success.
Wood‘s tone is established from the outset; the humour, the world, and the familiar caricatures which occupy it. The cast is well matched in their powerful performances, sharing the stage and space so fluidly that the disruptions of the world always come as a surprise. Foster’s witty script is executed perfectly with direction from Grace Duggan, and the cast (George Fletcher, Claire Cartwright, Philippa Hogg, Nneka Okoye) land each joke with the right balance of alternating subtly and exaggeration.
Action opens with a scene from the play about John Rolando’s life in the porn industry, with Actor 2 (Philippa Hogg)’s visible pleasure in taking up space as the obnoxious adult film director, Larry. Larry, co-performer Actor 4 (Nneka Okoye), and the aloof sound guy Actor 3 (Claire Cartwright) hilariously build pressure on John Rolando (George Fletcher) to get ‘wood’ for the scene. After a hilarious crescendo, the characters break out into their real rehearsal world, leading the audience into a fascinating account of powerplay and prejudice – having been lulled into a false sense of security with laughter still ringing in their ears. Each actor has the chance to play multiple contrasting parts unrestricted by gender, much to the distress of the aptly named Actor 1, and do so with aplomb.
Wood plays with perspective creatively with an awareness of the implications of such on the audience. The viewer feels a heightened discomfort from some of the laughter of their co-audience at the climax of the play, whereby the Actor 1 (hilariously played by George Fletcher) still gets to own the ‘punchline’ of the play, despite the continual attempts to dismantle the patriarchal structures which the play critiques. The intentionality in this action intelligently illuminates the world we currently reside in; even in the attempt to dismantle toxic masculinity, it still puts men at centre stage. The echo of male laughter around the room begs the question: does everyone here really get the level of irony in this? These final moments neatly encapsulate the central themes and leave the audience with a bittersweet taste. This double-edged humour earned Wood a big thumbs up from me, and I hope to see it go on to find larger audiences.