By Richard Crane
Directed by David Giles
Venue: Mill Studio
Date: Friday 4th July 2008
I was very much looking forward to seeing David Bradley on stage again, and in a solo performance. As it was a new play, I had very little idea what to expect and the way the play was written, neither did the character on stage.
The set was very simple. Various pallets were arranged to form a small platform and back wall in the centre of the studio space. Packing crates were distributed on either side, with candles stuck in bottles all over them. The candles were very short. Large candle holders stood on either side of the stage, with bigger candles, and a couple of rugs were lying across the platform and the floor in front of it. To complete the picture, a cross made of two strips of wood (probably off one of the pallets) was lashed to the top of the back wall. Simple, but effective.
David Bradley was playing an unnamed actor, who shambled on carrying another bottle with a lighted candle, a much longer one this time, and wearing a robe tied with a rope belt. He was obviously dressed as a monk of some kind, occasionally raising the hood. Underneath he was still wearing scruffy jeans and trainers. This was meant to be a performance of a story from The Brothers Karamazov, which the actor had been doing as a one-man show for many years, but tonight we were getting to see the effects of a serious row with his stage manager who has stormed off leaving him to do the whole show by himself. Fortunately the real stage crew has hung around, so we still get all the necessary lighting changes.
He starts by lighting all the various candles that adorn the set. This takes some time, and in the process he treats us to various candle-and-light-related comments, jokes, songs, etc. The story of his absconding stage manager, whom he refers to as a mouse, soon emerges, as does the whisky bottle, and it’s clear this is an actor who needs plenty of support to get his act together, never mind actually on to the stage. He keeps telling us about other performers who’ve died on stage or soon after a performance, and it turns out that the cause of the argument earlier on was his constant insistence each night that he’s going to do himself in. Go out with a whimper! This approach would deter most people a lot sooner than the ‘mouse’ lady, so she was obviously in love with him. It came as no surprise that years ago they’d had a one-off sexual encounter during an enforced stop-over in the only room the hotel had available at that time of night.
From time to time we get parts of what would have been the ‘intended’ performance. These are heralded by the use of the hood, and the actor taking up position on the stage and ‘acting’. These bits were fine, and showed that the old guy still had it in him, but not for long periods. Soon he’d be breaking off to tell us another story, swig from the bottle, and explain about how he’d always wanted to do a prologue, or an epilogue, but the ‘mouse’ wouldn’t let him. These statements usually led to another long-winded story about some performance where he’d deviated from the straight and narrow, and very entertaining it all was too. He also included a number of Tommy Cooper gags, and these gave us the best laughs of the evening. Not that the rest of it was lacking in the humour department.
The religious ideas were new to me, and I found them pretty odd. The character the actor was playing, the Grand Inquisitor, seemed to be saying that he didn’t want to believe in a god who would make suffering the price for redemption. A Christ who insists on pain as a precondition for heaven isn’t for him. He’d rather feed the needy, cloth the poor, etc, and to hell with god. As a result, when Christ returns, he has him arrested and sentenced to death, and this performance, and the story in the book, covers the night he spends with Christ in his cell before the execution, explaining his point of view. The actor shares this attitude towards religion with his character, whether naturally or from long acquaintance I can’t say, and gives us his own thoughts on the matter as well.
At the end, the actor takes a final swig from his bottle and collapses on the stage, a fitting ending for such an apparently disastrous performance.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me