Jelly Beans – Theatre 503, London

Writer and Director: Dan Pick
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott


One of the most important purposes of the London fringe is to offer-up a range of voices, ones that tell us about stories, cultures and people that are often under-represented. Visiting the West End is frequently a middle-class affair with its umpteenth revival of Hayfever that can seem a million miles from the reality of city life. But something a little darker is beginning to emerge, a slow wave of gritty British stories that tell of the seamier side of metropolitan living

Jelly Beans is an 80-minute monologue in which the unnamed narrator explains the events of one extraordinary and awful day. Opening in his grimy sounding flat one morning, he talks directly to the audience about the situation he has found himself in, the impulses he cannot control and the violent outburst in the alley behind a supermarket that mark his self-destruction. The story is interspersed with memories of the past, of terrible tragedy and a broken life that helps to make sense of his actions, but is it too late.

Dan Pick’s play is a gripping and beautifully written drama that creates vivid images in the audience’s mind. It’s told in three phases; an introduction to the mundanities of the narrator’s rather squalid life, followed by a chaotic whirlwind of physical activity, before dealing with the consequences. Pick has clearly chosen every word with care to impress each encounter on the viewer, and when the narrator feels a ‘glob of hot liquid’ on his face, the audience can almost feel it too.

It is also littered with shrewd and damning insights into modern urban culture – the casual encounters with easily accessible porn and violence, and the constant sense of lost innocence where childhood was a golden time before hopelessness, depression and a proliferation of bodily fluids took over. There is an atmosphere of lurid grime, created just with words, that gives such clear context it feels almost cinematic at times, and the central character often refers to particular movies or even says “I didn’t know what to do, I hadn’t seen enough films” as if everyone is acting a part. He mentions Die Hard, The Matrix and Bond as shaping his actions, but the play itself seems to stem from work like Fish Tank, High Rise and even Jamie Lloyds’ current take on Faustus as an urban drone.

Adam Harley plays the narrator as a slightly nervy but likeable character despite his actions and instantly develops a rapport with the audience. It starts with a largely comic portrayal of a fairly sad little life which soon builds into something considerably more compelling and emotional. The flashback scenes in which he discusses his little sister and once happy childhood are genuinely affecting, particularly in contrast to the sordidness of his current existence. Unable to escape from himself, he uses the small stage well to create variety and the changing pace of the drama is brilliantly signalled in the altering speed of delivery.

Arguably there is probably even more pathos to be wrung from the final scenes as everything comes crashing down and it does begin to feel a little drawn-out at the end, although there is clearly more to say about the narrator’s background and path to his current state. Perhaps too the sequence of events is rather unlikely. Nonetheless, Jelly Beans is a searing insight into the challenges and lost promise of modern living, a seedy world that gives a much-needed voice to a generation growing up to find only disappointment.

Runs until 14 May 2016 | Image: Contributed

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