1 February 2011 WOS Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews It's been a self-referential week for Oxford theatre. Following on from a ballsy student production of The Seagull, we now have Terrence McNally’s Master Class for our consideration. Plays about theatre can be more divisive than celebratory; there is a real danger of preaching to the choir. Given the dwindling audiences in regional theatres, there is a danger of creative stultification as the opportunity for demonstrating the power of performance to fresh faces disappears. Master Class is about this power as much as it is a character study of Maria Callas, and the extent to which it succeeds is the extent to which it demonstrates this power, as opposed to merely discussing it. Stephanie Beecham as Callas is magnificent from start to finish. Her superb comic timing left me convulsing in the stalls more than once. One of the most impressive aspects of a highly impressive performance is the command that Beecham brings to the stage. Having only heard Maria Callas on record I have no frame of reference for how she came across in the flesh, but I believed strongly in Beecham’s inhabitation of the quintessential diva. From a small facial shift to striding full-tilt across the stage, she presents a Callas who is self-aware of the tragedy of her life, yet believes that ultimately art and therefore her own existence, must matter.
The context which gives Callas’ interaction with her students meaning is a series of flashbacks in which the character relates details from her life, studying, working on her voice as a youngster and her turbulent relationship with Aristotle Onassis. These steps outside of the rehearsal studio of the plot take on an increasingly feverish nature – maybe not feverish enough for the contrast to fully take hold.
Regardless of this,
Master Class is an important production of an excellent piece, not simply because of the quality of the performances and sheer fun contained within. It is an important production because it works to demonstrate the power of theatre. If you can, press-gang a sceptic into seeing it.
- Josh Tomalin
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