Writer: Henry Devas
Director: Jez Pike
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
There are few things sadder than a tragic clown and, in Henry Devas’ new play, Matt is very sad indeed. “Fat, ugly, awful breath, terrible comedian” he is told, making it little wonder that he has just come close to jumping off Tower Bridge. However, he is saved for this world for a little longer and things rapidly get much worse for him.
Danny Kirrane’s Matt strikes an affective balance between comedy and pathos. The jokes are dreadful, but the actor makes clear the extent of the chronic depression from which Matt is suffering, thereby signalling from the outset that the play may ultimately have a serious purpose. Pressured by relationship difficulties and the responsibilities of new fatherhood as much as by his inability to raise laughs, Matt finds himself holed up in a remote room with two menacing men. Tristabel (Tom Canton) is a controlling bully and Benzies (Daniel Portman) is a violent psychopath. Both seem to be pushing him towards making that final jump.
All the action takes place in a tight corner of the Park’s square studio space, Elizabeth Wright’s design of a dingy room, with boarded up window and door, affirming the gloomy air of the writing. At the centre of the room is a ladder, ascending to “up”, whatever that may mean. The play takes the form of an absurdist comedy, short on explanations and overflowing with clumsy symbolism, but Devas never shows complete mastery of the genre and the first hour has the feel of a pilot for an edgy sitcom that Channel Four might have declined to commission.
Two further characters, Christopher and Chris, both played by Liam Smith, appear later, as the writer takes the play, firstly, further into the realms of absurdity and then back to the real world. Looked at from the perspective of the pathos in the closing scenes, Devas has written a meaningful, if confused, allegory that probes into the torment in the mind of a potential suicide victim and, with suicide rates among young men growing at an alarming rate, he earns respect for offering any insights.
Director Jez Pike gives the production an intensity that is sustained consistently throughout the two acts. However, there are many times when it feels that the play is not worthy of the actors’ commitment to their roles. Laddish jokes, macho posturing and relentless bullying make many scenes thoroughly unpleasant and very tough to watch. As a result, some in the audience could feel inclined to take a view opposite to the play’s title.
Runs until 23 March 2019 | Image: David Gill