[DEL]

Mon 8th – Sat 13th August 2011

reviews

Juliet Roe

at 11:09 on 14th Aug 2011

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One of my first notes taken whilst watching this show simply says ‘grizzly guy= good’, ‘grizzly guy’ being actor and writer Peter Easterbrook whose incredibly moving performance was the best of many good things that this play has to offer. A remarkably polished production performed by a cast of five actors, the three supporting roles pushed the rivalry between The Writer (Easterbrook’s Niall Frederick) and The Performer (co-writer Jonathan Higgs’ Mike Lownes) to the forefront of the action. Who should get the glory, who should do the work and the power-play at work when one talent eclipses another were skilfully debated in the ups and downs of the duo’s relationship.

Although it took about ten minutes to warm up, the seamless scene transitions between TV interview and anecdote gave the piece a very slick feel. This constant shifting nearly made the plot too bitty, but it was weighted down by the two key performances by Higgs and Easterbrook and by the intelligence of the supporting roles in not trying to encroach on their limelight. The plot speeds up as the lives of its protagonists grow increasingly mad and out of control; Niall can write brilliant comedy sketches but cannot overcome his stage fright to give them justice in delivery. He tries to hang himself in a graveyard but is interrupted by Mike Lownes, an employee of the funeral home, who encourages Niall to live and let Mike be the ‘mouthpiece’ for his comic genius. As their shared persona of ‘Caleb Johnson’ grows increasingly successful, Mike’s behaviour spirals out of control and Niall starts to resent his partner’s adulation and his constant refusal to let Niall enjoy any of his due rewards and finally overcome his nervousness. At times the plot resembled a far less boring ‘The King’s Speech’, in which the inhibited is exploited by his supposed saviour.

In a sketch of Niall’s which he develops over two years as his ‘breakthrough’ into performing his material, he comments on his voice sounding ‘sincere’ though ‘of course it’s not’. It is Peter Easterbrook’s voice that made Mike’s ultimate betrayal of Niall truly heartrending; I honestly had to restrain myself from starting a stage invasion and giving him a hug. The only thing which I didn’t like about the plot was the departure from what seemed like a logical conclusion- a return to the graveyard and a proper, posthumous confrontation. There was not a huge amount of closure for the audience at the end of the play, but then that did portray the unending quality of Mike’s guilty torment at having to remain Caleb Johnson and discuss ideas and words he didn't create. The heavy reliance on sound effects and recorded ‘radio interviews’ with Mike gave an effective, if slightly clichéd, impression of his torment.

This was a moving, funny and well executed piece of theatre which wielded enough power on its audience to make you hate and sympathise with Mike in equal measure. It was a pleasure to watch. And listen to. Well mainly to Easterbrook. Next project could definitely feature some kind of Easterbrook teddy bear in its marketing, just saying.

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Fen Greatley

at 12:31 on 14th Aug 2011

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Gripping from start to finish, '[Del]' owes much of this to its ingenious plot line.The opening scenes are highly intriguing, if not confusing: we see the same scene played out a few different ways as a man remembers it differently each time; It seems oddly Alice-in-Wonderlandesque, only with real-world cynicism.

One man, Mike (Jonathan Higgs), meets another in a graveyard as his shouting accidentally makes him fall from a tree and injure himself. Afraid of the consequences, Mike learns that Niall (Peter Easterwick) was planning to kill himself anyway. With each retelling of the scenario, remembered by Mike in a high-profile interview much later in life, a little more is revealed until we see that Niall is a comedy writer entirely lacking in confidence. He thinks his material is useless and he himself even more so.

There are some jokes in poor taste about suicide and the idea of death as a commodity before the pair end up forming a comedy partnership using the name on the gravestone where they met, “Caleb Johnson”; perhaps this eternising of the deathly encounter should have been seen as an ominous portent.

The partnership falls shy of a double-act as Niall gets no recognition for years, invisible while Mike (as Caleb) reaps everything that's been sown. He puts up with this but we soon learn that he has ambitions of his own, having once been close to hitting the big time as a performer himself. Eventually Mike agrees to roll out Niall, but Niall gets his own ideas, which steamroll, resulting in a stand-off between the two in which the effective ugliness of fame's greedy and corruptive powers are revealed to have hit Mike.

There are some agonisngly upsetting scenes as the audience is forced to witness Mike's betrayal of Niall as he not only spurns him, shunning his presence from an illustrious awards ceremony, but steals his big moment, using the sketch that Niall had penned for his debut appearance. Across the evening, tension is built fantastically by the ignoring of a periodically ringing mobile phone as Niall becomes increasingly despondent before finding himself once more at the end of his life.

With Niall gone, Mike seems to see indicators of his betrayal and his fraudulence everywhere. The scenes are hilariously laden with pointers to the inescapability of his situation: he's under huge pressure to continue producing top quality comedy sketches but hasn't the talent. He feels worse and worse as his wrongdoings are repeatedly dredged up and he even benefits from them.

A final sketch sees time out of joint and Mike's mental state in question. We become unaware as to what is memory and reality as several series of events are utterly conflated in his head. These scenes of disintegration are well written and very effective.

The play isn't hugely funny – only mildly so – but the audience seemed most appreciative of it. Niall is presented as a bumbling, adorable idiot. Easterbrook's voice is wonderful, a curious blend of Chris Moyle and Jonny Vegas. His self-awareness is easily relatable, his “Well, I'm a dick” wringing nervous chuckles from some; Niall is immediately established as an underdog and gains entry to our hearts, so we miss him when he's gone.

Some of the dialogue in the opening scenes from Higgs is a little wooden, but he is otherwise solid.

Scene changes are unforgivably long for the duration. The appearance of a couple of characters is wholly unnecessary and in the beginning serves only to confuse us. The device of the interviewer is not developed and leaves us more confused. The main issue is that this play lacks any kind of meaningful conclusion and we are left hanging, frustratingly. With a little reworking, this play could reach its true potential.

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