The Understudy at Lawrence Batley Theatre online
Based on the novel by David Nicholls, The Understudy is the new radio play adapted by Henry Filloux-Bennett and directed by Giles Croft, relaying the story of a stage actor waiting for his big break. The cast, which includes Stephen Fry, Mina Anwar, Layton Williams, Emily Atack and Russell Tovey among others, recorded their lines while self-isolating in their homes. The sound and design team then pieced all the different elements together to bring the story to life. The project is not only an interesting answer to the limitations posed by the lockdown, but it also actively supports the industry as all proceeds go to theatre charities and organisations.
The main character, named Stephen McQueen, is a 32-year-old who finally comes close to success when he manages to join the cast of a West End show starring celebrity actor Josh Harper. Stephen proudly breaks the news to his seven-year-old daughter and his ex-wife, but his glory is short-lived as he soon has to specify that he has no lines in the play and is actually Harper’s understudy. It’s a bittersweet ride for Stephen, who looks on from the sidelines as Harper enjoys fame and attention, but an unexpected event gives him hope while seriously complicating things at the same time.
The play is accompanied by animations that give a visual idea of the places where each scene is set. This is an optional add-on that helps create an atmosphere, leaving the audience with only one task: imagining the characters in action. The listening experience is very pleasant, and the dialogues are amusing. The actors and creative team handle the challenge of working separately rather well and it’s easy to get into and follow the story.
The world of theatre seen from an insider’s perspective and the role of understudy are both fascinating subjects that lend themselves to much exploration. This play chooses to focus on their comic aspect and succeeds in highlighting the irony and ludicrous scenarios that can emerge behind lowered curtains. The production has a sitcom feel and, while there is nothing groundbreaking or memorable about the narrative, it does provide entertainment in a refreshing format, giving your imagination room to play.
Photo: Lawrence Batley Theatre
The Understudy Part 1 is available to listen on the 20th May 2020. Part 2 will be aired on the 27th May 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for The Understudy here: