Omnibus Theatre, London – until 7th October 2023
Reviewed by Mitzi Luck
‘Compositor E’ is a poetic and lyrical play with writing that echoes the Shakespeare our main characters are setting into manuscript. On entering the theatre, I felt immediately transported to the work room of a publishing house. The ambient sounds and smoky atmosphere are all encompassing, with actors waiting motionless.
The play begins with John Leason, played by Tré Medley, starting his first day at the printers as an apprentice. His surroundings are intimidating and confusing. The foreman in charge appears to be Isaac Jaggard, played Kaffe Keating, who has no patience to give any care to the young John and Kaffe Keating portrays him convincingly as a brusque and sharp character. We meet his rival in Richard Bardolph, played by David Monteith – a wonderfully theatrical and dynamic character, with displays of poetic anger and all the fury of a man frustrated in his work.
It soon becomes apparent that John has a unique and sought after skill as he can read the nearly illegible handwriting that must be put into print. The play switches from the present moment to John Leason’s traumatic memories of his mother. As the tale of Macbeth unfurls at the fingers of the young compositor, the memories resurface and a horrific realisation is awakened. He is not just setting down font, but facing the very King whose censorship caused his mother’s downfall.
The staging is used brilliantly as we see the type appear on the walls of the work room in a reflection of main character’s own absorption into the story he sets in print. The audience is invited to become truly transfixed by the tales as they intertwine. Dreamlike sequences create a surreal impression as the main character’s mind unravels deeper truth. The supporting cast have wonderfully choreographed stage movement that adds tension to the play.
What’s in a word? One small letter that John discovers can change the meaning and protests the king. John Leason’s final monologue is a powerful call to remember that one has the power to write their own meaning into tales told in order to discover the truth and Medley delivers this faultlessly. It’s a moving ending of quiet rebellion.
All the cast of ‘Compositor E’ were truly wonderful in their roles. The writing was dramatic and engaging and the story is a unique portrayal of the power of the written word and the stories we tell. I thoroughly enjoyed this performance.