The mantle of commemorating four hundred years since the First Folio’s publication is a monumental responsibility. In Charlie Dupré’s politically charged and poetically vital Compositor E, Omnibus Theatre has carried this torch with grace and flourish, presenting a rich testament to the passion of the workers who set down the Bard’s words.
The story sizzles with detail, blending historical context with relatable drama. John Leason (played by a fully committed Tré Medley) is new to the workshop following a recommendation from his uncle, and is confronted with the warring forces of floor manager, Isaac Jaggard (Kaffe Keating), and senior compositor, Richard Bardolph (David Monteith). Marie McCarthy’s directorial choices lift these powerful performances with clever uses of sound, movement and video projection to create a high-stakes and deeply atmospheric take on professional relationships, steeped in the processes of work, and a deep-seated love of language.
The central argument is cleverly constructed, and has a lot to say about how the choice to change even one word can have a devastating or redemptive impact on people’s (specifically women’s) lives. The way the factory rhythms and processes are illustrated through movement is another great success, with the three young female-presenting machine operators taking us through a series of disciplined and process-oriented motions. When matched with Adam McCready’s soundscape of clanking machinery, these performers’ lingering presence brings the discipline and sensory barrage of the factory to life.
The writing of Compositor E is, at times, sublime, and the blending of poetry and drama is to be highly commended in a production that grapples with what it means to convey meaning through literature. The performances match this virtuosity and are consistently confident and clear — a sign of brilliant direction from McCarthy and a testament to the skill of these three performers.
Monteith is bursting with character as the seasoned and secretly literary compositor; Keating plays the angry, foul-mouthed Jaggard with an air of danger and authority. Huge plaudits must be given to Medley, who carries the ever-growing confidence of Leason with passion and vulnerability.
The only complaint is the silence of the women onstage, a device that magnifies the marginalisation of women’s voices by the literary industries and life in general. When set against the three men’s virtuosically written parts, this imbalance of contribution does make one wonder if there was an alternative way to include them in the magic of the text a little more.
Compositor E is at the Omnibus Theatre until 7th October 2023.