The actor used the props in imaginative ways to create different scenes. The most distinctive example was when Ethan and Lenny try to get inside their house through the toilet window. The stool is used to represent different things, when the actor is playing Ethan he holds the stool above his head to represent holding Lenny up, but as Lenny the stool is used to represent the toilet window. The actor pulls the stool down over himself and it gave the impression of him climbing through the window.
The set was used very well to illustrate this scene and the minimal set enables the audience to use more of their imagination for the play so that it becomes more their own, and can relate to it more directly. The audience itself is placed around the area the actor performs in, so the close proximity of actor to audience makes the performance much more powerful. Because you can see the other audience members you also need more of your imagination to visualize the story, so you find it easier to relate to because it comes from your own interpretation. The audience is on the same level as the actor, and because the target audience is the same age as the main character I think it highlights how the play is about a child’s concerns to for children who can relate to those concerns.
Not only the set and props were used effectively to tell the story but also music. The performance shows the composer, Paul Dodgson, went to a great deal of effort to create the music and different sounds, as the music was very powerful in creating different moods in the play. When Lenny was happy, the music would be upbeat and the tempo quicker which produced a happier atmosphere, whereas in more distressing scenes, for instance when he is being bullied, the pace slows down and unpleasant sound effects are used, like screeching of metal on metal. A harmonica, a small metal instrument was also used in creating the music.
The significance of the sound effects being metal, like a train, went unnoticed by the younger target audience and so the effort of the composer was not fully appreciated. However in this bullying scene, contrast in silence and sound is used to create tension when the bullies are first seen, there is a long pause and then a sudden crash as the actor throws the block to the floor and the taunting begins. Pace varied throughout the play, which captured the audiences attention, particularly when sound effects and music was used to build to a climax; for instance, when Lenny is waiting for a train to come the sound of a train slowly builds up in volume, the actor is more excitable and begins to talk quicker and when the train passes the noise of Lenny and the train climaxes. This is a good example of how sound was used effectively to build to a climax and create an energetic atmosphere that could not been as powerful without it.
Another important aspect that made the performance successful was the impressive acting. One actor, Craig Edwards, used multi role-playing to create the different characters. The efforts of the actor were clear by the quality of the work produced, he was very effective in distinguishing between the various characters and each was very convincing. He maintained a high standard of role-play for each character and the developed characterisation for each character made it obvious when he quickly switched between them. His body language, gestures and movements all changed depending on the character he was playing and each had their own little features that made them all the more real.
Lenny was characterised by his higher pitched and squeakier voice, his ‘on edge’ nervous glances and his constant looking up, when talking to others. You immediately imagine a young, small insecure boy, and this is exaggerated with his whole head looking up, not only illustrates how short he is but also makes him seem vulnerable. His movements were either jumpy and full of energy in happy atmospheres or slow and uneasy when things were going wrong, this emphasised how the play was focused on him and how it was through his perspective. His movements only changed and became more calm and controlled at the end of the play, when he was confident enough to come off the ‘train tracks’.
In contrast, Ethan was characterised by a deeper voice with stronger projection, standing tall with arms crossed or on hips, looking down when talking to Lenny and his head still level when talking to his mother, only eyes raised. This created a strong, self-confident character, set apart from the rest, which emphasised the way in which Lenny idolised his older brother. This also changed at the end of the play when Lenny learned of the other, more vulnerable side of his brother and it was almost as if roles were reversed. Other characters also were easily distinguishable, the mother was a stressed character, constantly dashing around and flapping her hands around to dry her nail polish. The bullies were also characterised well, with their quick movements and mocking laughs Edwards created intimidating personalities.
I think he is very skilled to have performed the bullying scene as he had to illustrate a group of bullies, and his use of space, the bullies placed around him and at different levels created the different characters, and even the dashing around to play the different bullies added to the suspense of the intimidation. I think it also helped to portray how from Lenny’s point of view it was happening too fast for him to defend himself or to understand how to counteract the bullies. Another good example of how the actor switches from one character to another is a scene where Lenny and Ethan are talking in their bunk bed.
Using a table, as Ethan he was led on his back, looking directly at the ceiling, with his legs apart and hands behind his head in a very relaxed manner talking to Lenny. When he switched to Lenny, his body suddenly changed into a scrunched up position on his side looking under the table and talking towards the floor. The change was so effective it was almost as if you were glancing to and from each bed in the bunk bed. This is a good example of how strong characterisation and the use of the set produced a high quality performance.
Overall the performance was very successful, strong acting skills, use of space and set with music to add to the atmosphere, it created a powerful show that touched on a variety of issues concerning a young troubled boy. The title itself suggests that it would be a peculiar play, even in the childish way in which ‘Lenny’ is defined, with a full stop at the end (Lenny – The boy who wanted to be a train.) This is why you are at first unsure whether or not you should laugh at the amusing dancing performed by a character who just wants to fit in. However, the introduction of cartoon-like styles to the acting puts you at ease when laughing at a boy eating a screw whilst giving an abstract slant to the show, mixing the natural with the surreal, engaging the audience throughout. The issues in the play are concerned with children around the target audience’s age, 12 – 13yr-olds, and I think this could be the basis to aiming it at this audience.
However I think that some of the stylised techniques would make it difficult for the younger audience to interpret the abstract scenes, like at the end, Lenny finding a ‘person’ inside his brother’s heart. I think that older age groups would equally enjoy it as I did, because although they may not immediately relate to the story there are aspects that everyone can relate to, and they would also appreciate the more subtle features missed by the younger audience. Whether you understand how, like Lenny’s brother, people can form outer ‘armour’ and not everything can be seen from the surface, or you know the mixture of excitement and nervousness when talking to your crush the play will touch you in some way. There are many moments that amuse, upset and make you think. Bullying was another major theme explored throughout the performance, and how role models are romanticised in the imagination through difficult times.
I think imagination is a more subtle but major theme of the play. The play is for children about a child, from the child’s perspective. This highlights how the play largely to do with Lenny’s imagination, and how he uses it to help him through his struggles, imagining he can be a train to overcome the bullying, he can imagine the screws strengthening him to make them easier to swallow. Everything is focused very much on him, even details less likely to be recognised by the younger audience, like the pace and music changing to suit Lenny’s mood is evident of this. Not forgetting that one person alone, who is introduced as Lenny and is essentially dressed as Lenny, performs the show.
I think it explores how reality can be distorted by imagination, whether to allow yourself to swallow screws, when idolising the brother that flies to school in a hot air balloon or limiting yourself to moving along imaginary ‘railway tracks’. It is only when he is stronger and more independent to cope with reality that he can leave the ‘railway tracks’. When you step back and look at the situation you find yourself in, despite audience members in your view, the reality of one male grown adult with minimal props and set is distorted by numerous characters, of different age and gender telling the story of a boy who goes from wishing to be a train to finding his self-confidence and building his self-esteem. A play that so effectively initiates and illustrates this powerful imagination is definitely worth watching.