Alexa, an aspiring actress, works as an usher in a West End theatre. While trying to get a hold in her career, she gets an audition at London’s famed National Theatre.
But the only place that seems to offer any latitude for growth — and proximity to her dreams — is the theatre she works in, where she watches people onstage every night, doing what she longs to do as well.
Writer-director Carys Watford’s comedy is a charming cocktail of a short film, combining buoyant storytelling, witty writing and funny yet affecting performances in a way that both inspires and delights.
Built around Alexa’s articulate voiceover, the film starts with a free-wheeling introduction, in which she takes viewers on a tour of the ins and outs of her life, including her affected boss, her sometimes hapless fellow ushers and the ways they kill time and keep themselves occupied while waiting for their own creative dreams to come true. The pace and editing pops and fizzes along with the entertaining verve of a vaudeville song, drawing viewers into an offbeat, idiosyncratic milieu, with personalities to match.
Watford has an eye for bright, whimsical visual flights-of-fancy that pop with saturated colors and eccentric detail, and fans of filmmakers like Wes Anderson will find much to admire and delight in. The film’s well-composed images take full advantage of the theatrical setting to showcase the sumptuous textures and deep colors of the space. As a result, the story’s narrative sphere seems both rich and narrow, creating both a world in miniature and a grand stage upon which Alexa projects her own dreams of artistic fulfillment.
The visuals, however, don’t get in the way of a more straightforward emotional intimacy and engagement. After the story’s bustling first half, which introduces Alexa and her world, the film pivots with a moving detour into Alexa’s imagination, where she envisions herself onstage, singing her heart out. The song plays out, and we see the depth of Alexa’s longing.
From there, “Theatreland” becomes a portrait on what it means to keep following your dreams, even if those dreams seem like they’ll never quite come true — at least not in the way imagined. When one of Alexa’s fellow ushers quit, she must decide whether or not she has the courage to follow the adventure of her ambition, or be satisfied with mere proximity. It’s a moment many people face when pursuing any long-desired goal, but with its sweet, heartwarming conclusion, the film offers fellowship, solidarity and inspiration to other fellow dreamers out there.