Writer: Geoff Thompson
Director: Nick Bagnall
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Geoff Thompson’s partly autobiographical play is hard-hitting, uncomfortable viewing. By the age of thirty, and convinced that there must be more to life than menial jobs, Coventry-man Thompson decided to become a martial arts instructor, followed by living out his dream of becoming a writer, subsequently winning a BAFTA for best short film with Brown Paper Bag. In Fragile, his writing is raw, direct and uncompromising.
Fragile’s sole character, One, played by Craig Conway, is a middle-aged man who was abused as a boy by a teacher he idolised. Struggling to come to terms with the impact this has had on his life since, he follows the advice of his psychiatrist to ‘talk it out’ to a non-judgemental tape recorder. We first meet him as he switches it on and passes on his thoughts about organised religion, philosophy and self-help before discussing the abuse and its impact on him: how it affected his relationships with girls, his parents and himself. He struggles with managing his anger, directed towards both himself and others. The tale is very dark and harrowing, though not without brief moments of humour, which serve to reinforce the damage done to One, making his character three-dimensional.
Conway is completely convincing as One: his violent mood swings and his own sense of bafflement at how he has changed are well drawn. He takes other rôles in explanatory vignettes, for example, with his mother, with complete assurance. Her failure to come to terms with his experience and her sense of shame, convinced he must somehow share the blame, are clear.
The power of Thompson’s writing is complemented by flawless direction from Nick Bagnall. No movement, word or gesture is wasted; as he says in the programme, “I’ll try my damnedest to make sure every single second and syllable is filled and immense and vital”. He is conspicuously successful in achieving that. Almost a second cast member is the design by Nicky Bunch, supported by Mike Robertson’s lighting design and Peter Rice’s atonal soundscape. Surrounded on three sides, the arrow shaped set does indeed, as described by Bagnall, leave One nowhere to go. Every change of lighting, every single piece of furniture and prop, including the haunting pictures of sculptures by Juan Muñoz hung by One as one act gives way to another, has an integral part to play in the whole supporting the emotional development of One.
The themes explored mean this is not suitable for children, and is difficult for adults to watch. Those who can cope with the subject matter will be well rewarded. Highly recommended.