How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found

Fri 3rd – Mon 6th August 2012

reviews

Bridget Wynne Willson

at 02:18 on 4th Aug 2012

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‘How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found’, performed by the Liverpool University Drama Society, is a must-see for anyone who, for any given reason, wishes to change their identity, as it provides a step-by-step guide to identity theft. Nevertheless, more pious viewers should not be deterred. The play tells the tale of Charlie Hunt, a man on the brink of a mental breakdown in the face of problems at work. He cries, is dependent on a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, and is tormented by his soulless, ‘fake’ colleagues and the world they co-habit. This world is a nightmare, his co-workers heartless and ruthless, and fearfully believable as the issues presented are so real in today’s society; the line, “Charlie Hunt is nothing more than a collection of pieces of paper,” rings eerily true. Pressure-driven to embezzlement, he enlists the help of old friend Mike, played by Luke Barton, in order to disappear without trace. The use of the coroner adds an element of mystery to the story, keeping us intrigued until the very end. Although some questions are never truly answered, the journey along the way is sufficiently captivating and the moral of the play is just touching enough to stay with the viewer long after the performance is over. The themes covered by ‘How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found’ are surprisingly relevant to a student audience. That today’s society is a facade, meaningless professional jargon, drug dependency and the absurdity of computer regulation are amongst the topics covered.

The bare, sparse set worked well within the constraints of the venue, and simple costumes allowed for the frequent character changes. I found particularly effective the use of sound, as phone calls and other such aural devices were played through loudspeakers to great effect. We hear the voices inside Charlie’s head, enabling a deeper understanding of his ever-increasing insanity.

The cast of five delivers powerful performances as they cover a wide range of characters. Scene changes are virtually seamless and particularly strong were Luke Barton and Martin Poile. Barton’s effortless accent changes are flawless and his turn as Mike provides the perfect tension between dodgy wide-boy and sympathetic father figure. Martin Poile in the lead role is excellent as the tortured protagonist; we truly understand his predicament and, in spite of the character’s own shortcomings, understand his motivations, primarily due to Poile’s talent.

The subject matter is incredibly dark and well-handled. Comic moments are there, yet barely alleviate the intensity of the piece. This, however, is entirely irrelevant as ‘How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found’ functions perfectly as a tale about values, responsibility and identity.

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Yara Rodrigues Fowler

at 07:14 on 4th Aug 2012

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‘How to Disappear Completely And Never Be Found’ is a disturbing piece of psychological drama - something like a mash-up of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘American Psycho’ narrated by David Foster Wallace. It tells the story of the nervous breakdown of Charlie Hunt (Martin Poile), a highly strung marketing executive who forgets his mother’s ashes on his desk in his rush to escape embezzlement charges and an identity that is failing him. In a way highly reminiscent of Foster Wallace, ‘Good Old Neon’, he constantly asks, “do you ever think that everything is sort of fake?”.

The play begins in this vein, but is layered with formal effects and staging, allowing it to steer clear of your run-of-the-mill confessional angst, and achieve something quite spooky and watchable. For example, the action of the play is doubled with intermittent narration, predominantly by Hunt, but also by his overlapping and transient (they are somewhat ghostly) supporting characters. This narration is delivered in the present tense and addressed to “you”, creating an entrapping confusion of psychological boundaries and space. This is a happy case of form supporting meaning, and the audience feels fully implicated in Charlie’s attempted escape from identity.

The cast moved seamlessly from character to character, accent to accent, as Charlie moved between identities; this was not only technically splendid - the best accent-swapping I’ve seen so far at the Fringe - but dramatically powerful and convincing enough to operate at several levels. The first being the action of the plot, and the second being an underlying repetition and conflation of people - in the words of ‘Mike’, identity is just a "collection of pieces of paper", and there is a neat symmetry in the suggestion that this is as applicable to the play’s script, as to the official documents 'Mike’ is referring to.

The supporting actors gave invariably strong performances, with Luke Barton as Mike slipping from character to narrator particularly adeptly and clearly. And, although the script includes the odd awkward line, the actors used its patterns and repetitions effectively. The tech and sound team deserve special mention also: from sea birds to ring tones to touching voicemails, sound effects were used to enrich the acting, rendering an elaborate set and costume unnecessary and unmissed.

The play had many dark and moving moments, the most impressive being the scene of Charlie’s breakdown. Poile's performance is stellar. His delivery is quick and manic, his tears and expression doing full justice to the words and emotion of the play - testament also the clearly meticulous direction of Laura Mooney (Director) and Branwen Jones (Assistant Director).

Overall, this is an impressive show which will make you laugh, think, hold your breath and jump in your seat.

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