Preview: Fat Git Theatre’s “Uninvited”

at the Capital Studio, Saturday 9th June 2012

Fat Git Theatre’s last production, The Nose, was created in a short space of time, and its haphazard and pop-up feel reflected that. Their new show Uninvited, however, has been a year in the making and comes across as a far more accomplished piece of theatre, marrying the absurdity of the company’s style with a more complete narrative whilst taking some hilariously funny turns in the process.

In the piece, based on Peter Mortimer’s novella of the same name, a man comes home from work one day to find a stranger in his house. His daily routine is utterly shattered by the intruder, who initially simply sits silently in order to upset his host. Soon, however, a latent violence manifests itself into something far darker as the protagonist’s world is utterly shattered.

I worry somewhat about the nihilism of the story – there’s very little optimism in its conclusion – but thankfully Josh Roche has directed it in such a way that the overriding tone is one of comedy. In his portrayal of the central character (named ‘Me’), Josh Goulding is hilarious, showing a man so set in his ways that it makes sense that this break-in causes a break-down. This man is excruciatingly dull, and it initially seems like this event will pull him out of his reverie to engage better with the world around him.

In Roche’s production, the man’s only friends are the Bouffons (Edward Davis, Kate Pearse and Emma Jane Denly), who are part of his beige and nondescript furniture. His house is his castle, and these his guards at the gates. In a world where the private sphere is being constantly encroached upon and violated, it makes sense that the only comfort here is found behind closed doors and in the purity of one’s own thoughts. We hate this figure for his small-mindedness, but it’s hard not to feel sympathy for him.

As the stranger, Joe Boylan is quietly terrifying, saying very little until the climax of the play and stage managing the house to scare the man and play with his paranoia. Fittingly, he is the only normal person in this absurd world. It feels like a little more anticipation of his final horrid act could be useful in order to make us feel more guilty about laughing. These final few moments are a little like a Martin McDonagh play that Ionesco has structured; this isn’t as mad as it sounds, for both writers feed off and send up the absurdity of life, meaning they are happily married here.

Fat Git were a hot ticket at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, and there’s no doubt they’re on a course for the same trajectory this year. In less than a year, the company’s style has matured in a way which has begun to best use the grotesque to inform a narrative. It’s also thrilling to find yourself thinking about the play for a long time afterwards, for though I found myself in a state of perpetual laughter, Uninvited also does an impressive job of challenging and redefining our expectations.

“Boys” by Ella Hickson

at the Soho Theatre, Monday 4th June 2012

Since the British public were treated to a Conservative government, there seems to me to have been a drive towards plays which contemplate big issues surrounding modern life; Mike Bartlett is at the forefront of this wave of Big Issue plays (I’ll come up with a better name in time), with the likes of Laura Wade and Headlong following suit with Posh and Decade respectively. For my money, I’d be willing to bet that, like it or not, this style of theatre will become more and more popular in the coming years. Ella Hickson’s Boys is a step in this direction, cementing a style of theatre which embraces theatricality as a way of tackling sprawling topics.

Hickson’s play is set in an Edinburgh flat, in which Benny, Mack, Timp and Cam live (the first two are students, the latter living there as the rent is cheaper). It is the end of exams and the quartet party regularly, boozing and snorting the nights away. The bin bags have been piling up for weeks as the council refuses to remove them; Benny thinks this an outrage whilst Mack argues they are not “entitled” to free rubbish collection and fails to see why he should do anything about it. Hickson here shows a disenfranchised and hopeless youth, for while many are out protesting, the vast majority are sat at home wasting time. References to Disney throughout signify a desire to hold on to innocence and a time when fairy-tale endings were possible. It’s a clever trick; you’d be surprised by the number of times Disney is discussed and played by students in 2012.

The slowly accumulating bin bags are symptomatic of an underlying strain, for they bring out both protesters and police who proceed to face-off whilst the boys and their girlfriends party in the flat (Benny recounts the story to us from the window). After the big bags are heaved into the flat at the demands of the police, they cannot stay dormant for long, and in a rather beautiful moment the bags and their contents are thrown around the stage in a sort of binman’s ballet. This is where Hickson’s awareness of theatricality truly shows itself, and the detritus is left strewn around the flat for a long time afterwards.

The storyline surrounding Benny and his recent past (*highlight for spoiler* his brother recently hung himself) feels somewhat unnecessary to the narrative, though it’s clear he represents the death of one final hope for this generation, who have now been made devoid of ambition and power since their collective voice is listened to less and less. Those who want to fight are laughed at and ridiculed.

Robert Icke’s production, though a little slow, captures these images of loss and protest with some simple theatrical flair on an otherwise naturalistic set (Chloe Lamford). Samuel Edward Cook, Lorn Macdonald and Tom Mothersdale as Mack, Cam and Timp are frustratingly carefree and fail to notice the shift happening right outside their window. Equally, Laura and Sophie, played by Alison O’Donnell and Eve Ponsonby are not aware that the lives they are living have become pointless. It is only Benny who seems to care about the world around him, and Danny Kirrane’s endearing and open performance commands our sympathy.

Boys is not without its faults; the second act could do with some cuts and there are at times too many questions raised (interestingly, these are the same accusations which have been levelled at Bartlett in the past). But it manages to capture a mood among young people which straddles the line between wanting to do something but feeling powerless. Hickson, I suspect, will write better plays on similar subjects, but here we are witnessing the germination of a new era of playwriting in theatre. I don’t know exactly what it looks like yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s coming.

Pinterest board here: http://pinterest.com/danhutton/boys-by-ella-hickson/