Review: The Level of Being by The Nottingham Actors Studio Theatre Company

May 16th 2016

The Level of Being

Steph from the Creative Quarter went along to review ‘The Level of Being’ by the Nottingham Actors Studio Theatre Company on Saturday, written and directed by Martin Arrowsmith.

I love the theatre so I jumped at the chance when I was invited along to see this play by the Nottingham Actors Studio Theatre Company. The action took place in the Nottingham Actors Studio very own theatre, down in the basement of their home on Kayes Walk in the Lace Market. It’s a great space for a play – small, intimate, hidden away from the world so you’re free from any distractions, totally engrossed in what’s happening on stage.

The play tells the story of Louise. Her marriage is failing, her family don’t care and her best friend has just walked out of her life. And that’s just the beginning. The play takes the audience on a darkly funny journey through Louise’s ever-growing list of catastrophes, brought on by her own sense of unreality, denial and a failure to ever take responsibility for her own actions.

Everything is wildly skewed in Louise’s mind, brilliantly illustrated by the blackly comic scene in which Louise repeatedly and frantically sticks her head in a sink full of water quite voluntarily, while her confused fiancé looks on perplexed. Of course, in Louise’s mind, where nothing is ever her fault, her fiancé is trying to drown her.

The play is a brilliant critique of contemporary society’s approach to mental health and wellbeing, an approach where we’re looking for a quick fix, something we can buy off the shelf, a book with all the answers. The book in this case is a self-help book called ‘The Level of Being’ and it becomes Louise’s bible. The only trouble is, the advice just isn’t working.

Martin Arrowsmith has written a great character in Louise, on the one hand selfish, self-obsessed and detestable, on the other touchingly vulnerable and recognisably, painfully, hilariously similar to ourselves. Louise holds a mirror up to all of us and contemporary society, echoing the exhausting search for happiness we often (quite literally) buy into, while ignoring what we have right in front of us.

In Louise’s case she tries the lot…marriage, Mormonism, meditation, jacking her job in for acting, one-night stands and finally motherhood – while losing the people around her, friends, family, a husband and a fiancé. It’s a clever writer that can cover so much ground and raise so many deep issues, while keeping the audience laughing out loud, yet transfixed to the unfolding drama.

Louise’s story is told through a brilliant monologue, where the audience is increasingly and conspiratorially drawn into the action by her, at first a casual observer and finally, ultimately, to blame for her failures, just like all the other people in her life.

It’s hard to believe how Ottilie Mackintosh, who plays Louise could possibly have learnt all those lines, or how she can switch so smoothly between her many states of being – from joyous enthusiasm every time she discovers ‘the answer’, to raging outbursts of hysterical emotion.

The other characters in the play are voiceless, faceless ‘ghosts’, underlining Louise’s self-absorbedness, a world where other people don’t exist in terms of their own lives, needs and emotions, simply in respect to her. They may not have had any lines, but Caitlin Drabble who plays Female ‘X’ and Aiden McCullough who plays Male ‘Y’ still got plenty of laughs, for their hilarious facial expressions, often reflecting our own reaction to Louise’s antics. It takes a good actor to speak volumes with no words, and both Caitlin and Aiden do just that.

All in all an intriguing, original, thought-provoking play and a very enjoyable Saturday night. Thank you to The Nottingham Actors Studio.

The Level of Being is the third play by Martin to be debuted at The Basement, as the theatre is known. It’s come to the end of its run now, but the good news is that there’ll be more plays by the Nottingham Actors Studio Theatre Company coming soon. Watch this space!

About Nottingham Actors Studio

Nottingham Actors Studio proudly provides 100% free training to young actors aged between 8-11 years and 16-25 years, as well as heavily subsidised fees to those aged between 11-16 years. In this way, it offers talented young people access to both industry leading training and unrivalled links and opportunities – irrespective of disabilities or social and ethnic backgrounds. This is something Nottingham should be incredibly proud of, when you consider recent reports in the media that there’s a ‘class ceiling’ that deters actors from less privileged backgrounds, backed up by research that shows 73% of performers in British theatre and film are from middle class backgrounds and 42% of British BAFTA winners went to a fee-paying school.

The Nottingham Actors Studio is supported by the majority of leading casting agents and agencies, many of whom attended the Actors Studio’s industry event earlier in the year and as a result, a growing list of young actors are going on to amazing things. For instance, Aiden McCullough who played Male ‘Y’ in The Level of Being, has a really exciting major new project coming up.

The Nottingham Actors Studio receives no public funding, so it relies solely on donations to keep going. You can support them by making a one-off donation, or by becoming a Friend of the Studio from just £20 a year.

To find out more email Studio Manager Rachael Pacey via Rachael.pacey@nottinghamactorsstudio.co.uk or call 0115 860 2179.