Writer: Owen Thomas
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
We think we understand the world around us that maths and science have or will give us the key to knowing exactly how everything fits together. But there are forces that remain entirely unexplained, and while scientists scoff at the concepts of fate, destiny and coincidence, there is still nothing to entirely disprove their influence which the Hope Theatre’s new black comedy Richard Parker sets out to explore.
Two men alone on the deck of a ship discover they share not only the same name – Richard Parker – but many similarities of taste and experience. But the second Richard Parker is no ordinary traveller and begins to relate the horrible stories of several Richard Parkers who came before, men shipwrecked and then cannibalised by their crewmates. When the fates take charge and the Richard Parkers find themselves adrift in a lifeboat, will destiny come to claim them once more?
Owen Thomas’ new play is a darkly entertaining two-hander that examines not just the existence of coincidence but the nature of life and death itself. In its mere hour run time, it tackles the concepts of the worthy life and whether faced with your own demise at any given moment you feel you have lived with purpose while allowing the two men trapped in their boat to play out notions of teamwork versus self-interest as they scrabble to stay alive.
It is a tightly constructed piece that uses Richard Parker 2’s (Luke Adamson) huge monologues to announce an increasingly bizarre list of historical coincidences from the huge parallels between the lives of American Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, to the coffin that floated away to sea and nine years later pitched up close to where the deceased man was christened. And while this may seem by-the-by, in practice it is an insight into a character driven by his belief in fate and desire to beat it.
Adamson’s performance is a sinister and compelling one, in the vein of the charming and dangerous Tom Ripley while Thomas’ narrative combines the psychological suspense of Patricia Highsmith with the dark edge of Edgar Allen Poe. Adamson’s performance is part know-it- all geek, part fiend but his continual poise and acceptance of destiny make for engaging viewing.
Dan Bottomley as Richard Parker 1, who is the first to appear on stage, is more of a conundrum; he states he is a loner, deliberately separated from life but with a positive outlook that we don’t really see and it’s never clear why he accepts the dominance of his companion without ever fighting back. Yet Bottomley, despite his angst and protests to the contrary, shows us a man who comes to appreciate the value of having a life at all and regretting its lack of worth. The scene in the dingy where the men begin to grate on each other allows the actors find an interesting camaraderie that adds nuance.
Arguably the end Thomas leaves the audience with is not quite the right one, and something a little more ambiguous would add a final touch of darkness to this otherwise well-paced show. The big twist comes a few minutes earlier and the aftermath of that is well written, but having so conclusive an ending robs it of the shading that a will they-won’t they conclusion would provide. As it stands it comes down too heavily on one side of the coincidence argument and it could be more fitting to leave the audience and the characters adrift.
“Coincidence shows us that this enormous universe is not so enormous after all” Thomas claims and Richard Parker is an interesting vehicle for examining the things science just cannot explain.
Runs until 23 January 2017 | Image: Cameron Harle