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The Theatreguide.London Review

Faces In The Crowd
Gate Theatre   January-February 2020

A woman who works as a translator discovers the biography of an obscure Mexican poet and is so fascinated by him that she wants to translate his poems. But finding few if any, she writes her own poems in his style and passes them off as his, going so far as inventing a fictional translator of the newly discovered works.

Eventually she begins to take on the persona of the poet, finding her imaginings of his life more real than her own home life with husband and children.

I think.

Ellen McDougall's adaptation of Valeria Luiselli's novel is certainly about the fluidity of reality levels and individual identities, and I suppose a certain amount of ambiguity and imprecision come with the territory. But what might work in a novel is considerably less successful on stage.

There are two main reasons for this. First, in theatrical terms, this can't help coming across as old news.

Almost everything Faces In The Crowd has to say was fresh and exciting when Pirandello explored it a hundred years and more ago. But it has filtered down and been absorbed into popular culture so thoroughly – think The Matrix, Face Off, any number of identity-theft and what-is-real movies – that you are too likely to feel that this play is working far too hard to say far too little.

And adaptor-director Ellen McDougall has chosen the dangerous path of attempting to depict chaos through chaos. As the main character's sense of who she is and what is real becomes ever more fragile, so does the play's structure and simple communication.

The admirable efforts of actress Jimena Larraguivel and an underused supporting cast can't guide us along a clear narrative line when there doesn't seem to be one, and by the time we reach a Philadelphia bar (Don't ask) things have descended into incoherence.

You leave Faces In The Crowd with a vague sense of what they were trying to do and with regret that they were not more successful.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Faces In The Crowd - Gate Theatre 2020