Monday, 31 May 2010

The Man at Finborough Theatre

Sometimes it's the sheer inventiveness of an idea that generates a great piece of writing. A case in point is James Graham's The Man, brilliantly presented at a tiny theatre above a pub near Earl's Court.

Ben has to fill in his tax form and is in a panic. He's kept all the receipts over the past year, but isn't sure what he can claim as expenses.

As you file into the theatre to to take a place on tiers of padded benches you're handed a worn till receipt and told you'll be asked for it at some point in the performance.

And that's what happens. At some point in the show when you feel like it, you offer the receipt to Ben, the single actor. Sometimes it's a ticket to a show, or a CD purchase receipt, and Ben will play an extract on his ipod connected to speakers. But every slip of paper reminds him of an event. As he says, 'We are what we buy'.

The details of Ben's life, his job, failed relationships and family background build like a slowly forming jig-saw puzzle. What starts as a comedy, with jokey comments like 'Everyone lives in Tooting when they first come to London, don't they?' becomes imperceptibly darker.

Samuel Barnett, a face familiar from several TV appearances, is convincingly vulnerable as Ben, changing from cheerful confessional mood to nostaglic sadness as each receipt is read out and he recalls its significance. He engages the audience's sympathy and attention throughout the virtually one-man performance.

He's one of four actors who appear on different nights. Lizzy Watts plays an offstage sympathetic HM Revenue telephone advisor, but the lack of credibility there is no reflection on the actress.Her role is also subject to rotation.

Best of all, the £3 programme is a Methuen text of the play. There seemed to be only one receipt missing when I read it through. Fortunately it wasn't crucial. And what a great chance to study how an apparently randomly chosen sequence achieves a structure (with one or two strategic 'plants')

The Man at the Finborough Theatre:

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