Guiding the audience throughout the protagonist’s struggles in the process of creating a film, Tom Proffitt’s The Greatest Thing You’ve Ever Seen is a hopeful portrayal of how personal and physical obstacles can be overcome with conviction, perseverance, and a little help from your friends.
The play opens with George (Arthur Mckechnie) standing in the centre of the stage, spots of colour glowing and fading around him. Then he poses a question to the audience, challenging how the past is perceived. The narrative then tracks George’s relationships with Hetty (Isabelle Cadwallader) and Henry (Chris Sharp-Paul), with the characters recounting how they first met George, effectively solidifying the connections between each character.
As the play progresses, however, we find out that George is losing his eyesight, and consequently his attempt to produce a film, along with his relationship with Henry, is hindered by his fading vision and his refusal to communicate with Henry and Hetty. Nevertheless, he ultimately manages, against all odds, to successfully produce a film that was well received, and things end on a promising note both in terms of his future in the field and his personal relationships.
The characterization and dialogue overall is well done, and although it came across as slightly sentimental in parts, the solid performances of the cast create convincing interpersonal dynamics nonetheless. Mckechnie integrates traits like stammering and fiddling with a lighter in an extremely natural manner, and his infectious enthusiasm about film makes his ‘Have you seen…’s nothing less than endearing. Cadwallader is also a comforting presence as Hetty, and constantly establishes the reliability and sincerity of her character’s friendship with George.
”Neil Ganatra also deserves a mention for impressively bringing a frequent wryness to his multiple roles despite their shorter stage time’’
On the other hand, Sharp-Paul lends a sharper appeal to his character, flawlessly making Henry almost too charming and confident but never quite so. His nuanced acting plays off Mckechnie’s character wonderfully, and both actors construct an honest depiction of a relationship, be it during the tender moments or the conflicts. Neil Ganatra also deserves a mention for impressively bringing a frequent wryness to his multiple roles despite their shorter stage time; his stint as the Ophthalmologist with his constant readjusting of pens was particularly enjoyable.
In a few parts the dialogue seemed a bit expository, and might have benefited from some rapid-fire exchanges, especially during the more intense moments. However, this does allow the audience to get a better sense of the characters’ drives and desires, which significantly encourages empathy with George as the principal focalizer of the play.
”This evidently well-researched and thought-out narrative element, alongside the tackling of issues such as compromising artistic integrity and the desire to leave a mark on the world, serves to strengthen the cohesion of the play’s world’’
Furthermore, the script also notably draws upon a wide array of references to the works of directors like Kubrick, Tarantino and Nolan, even citing specific scenes in some lines, fleshing out George’s passion for the film industry in a comprehensive manner. This evidently well-researched and thought-out narrative element, alongside the tackling of issues such as compromising artistic integrity and the desire to leave a mark on the world, serves to strengthen the cohesion of the play’s world. In this respect, the only caveat I would provide is that the use of actual footage as the final, successful product of George’s effort might open it up for criticism.
The set design was minimalistic but effective, with different lighting (from soft colours to harsh whites) working admirably to set various scenes with minimal changes in props and set pieces. The use of strobe lighting for each scene transition was questionable, as it may be disorientating to some audience members (though admittedly that may be the desired effect); nevertheless, the play is generally well-paced without any dull or idle moments.
With compelling characters and some light-hearted moments, buoyed by a developed and consistent narrative, Tom Proffitt and Emily Dimino have created an accomplished play that speaks to the human desire to be significant and the artistic struggle to create something meaningful, all the while dealing with losing an integral part of our identity.
7 /10 – Great show but room for improvement
Yee Heng Yeh
Image courtesy of the Nottingham New Theatre
‘The Greatest Thing You’ve Ever Seen’ is running at the Nottingham New Theatre until Monday 12th December. For more information and where to find tickets see here