What Shall We Do With the Cello?, VAULT Festival

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by guest critic Jo Trainor

It’s pouring rain and three strangers are waiting. An endless wait that is made unbearable by the constant cellist in the corner of the room. Matei Visniec’s surreal comedy utilises the simplest scenario and creates a storm in a teacup.

When the play begins Nick Allen’s cello music doesn’t really register; it’s a pleasant white noise in the background. But as the music becomes more discordant and the characters point out how incessant it is, you realise how unnerving the instrument is. Audience members start checking their watches and the whole atmosphere of the room becomes incredibly uncomfortable. The characters’ sanity unravels quickly, but the acting and script are so clever that their actions seem rather tolerant. “What shall we do with the cello?” the woman with the veil asks. “SMASH IT INTO A MILLION PIECES!” you want to scream back.

The only issue with the production is that it shouldn’t be staged in thrust. The set is made up of four chairs in a straight line across the stage; so for those sat on the sides actors are constantly blocking each other’s heads. It looks like director Vasile Nedelcu blocked the piece before finding out which space they were performing in. Having to move around in your seats to see all the characters is a minor inconvenience, but missing the projections on the back screen is a real shame. The black and white footage and stills are clearly the subtext to the story, and so not being able to see them properly takes away a whole layer of the show.

Think something absurdist, Beckett-esqe that will drive you completely insane in the best possible way. Just desperately try and get yourself a seat in the middle section, so you get the full experience. This should definitely have a future run, and would be perfect for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

What Shall We Do With the Cello? runs through 12 February.

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