Writer: Fin Kennedy
Director: Rob Salmon
Reviewer: Paul Couch
What identifies us as individuals? Is it our past? Our physical or psychological DNA perhaps? Or the conscious choices we make? These are the questions posed in Fin Kennedy’s 2007 play How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, currently presented by the New Wolsey Theatre’s Young Company.
And that’s the last time the word “young” will be used in this review, because it would be simply inappropriate to skew perception of any of the extraordinary performances from this tight-knit ensemble cast with any reference to their physical maturity. They offer highly skilled, and cleverly thought-out, portrayals of a range of wholly three-dimensional characters that could hold their own on any stage in the country.
Charlie Hunt is a late-20s advertising executive, up to his neck in debt, alcohol and substance abuse, and about to become a “person of interest” to the Met. To make matters worse, Charlie’s mother has recently died and he spends the first half an hour solemnly carting around her ashes in an urn.
We first meet Charlie in what appears to be the lost property office of Embankment underground station after he suffers a head injury. A chirpy Tube worker (Sam Pote) with an obsession for lost umbrellas – many, many lost umbrellas – explains to Charlie how he came to be in his current situation. But is “Peter”, who is, he informs us, “in charge of the gates” a manifestation of the Afterlife or simply a part of a living Charlie’s growing psychosis? The allusion that Charlie is himself “lost property” does not fall short of its target.
With such an adept cast, it feels inequitable to single out one person but Jamie Rose’s Charlie is a mesmerising tour-de-force that rips the soul out of the viewer before stuffing it back with a callous recklessness, like so much straw into a scarecrow.
The piece comes in at over two hours long but Rob Salmon’s tight direction, coupled with powerhouse performances and Kennedy’s powerful text makes How To Disappear… fairly thunder along.
Kennedy’s script is no linear story; it leaps about offering Kafka-esque vignettes of Charlie’s recent life. The “is he/isn’t he” presentation may be a little existential for some (and is in truth occasionally contradictory) but holistically it’s a masterful and challenging piece of work.
If this production suffers at all, it’s from a slightly limp end to Act One, leaving the audience wondering if we should applaud or not. We sit there, each daring the other to issue the first clap before shuffling off in silence for a much needed break from all the high-octane tension on stage. Perhaps the answer lies in an additional lighting cue or a plant in the audience, but it needs something.
Salmon’s set, unusually for the traditionally designed New Wolsey Studio, is configured in traverse. Corrugated plastic walls keep the shades of Charlie’s past on the periphery of our senses, and much is made of David Phillips’ evocative lighting. While this space has always been intimate, this particular configuration brings the audience right into the playing space, adding to the disconcerting sense of voyeurism.
There have been other generations of this company but perhaps none as accomplished. How To Disappear Completely… is a game-changer of which each member of the cast and creative team should be justifiably proud.
Runs until 29 April 2017 | Image: Mike Kwasniak