Writers: Peter Eastbrook, Jonathan Higgs
Directors: Peter Eastbrook, Jonathan Higgs, Hamish Lawson
Reviewer: Hannah Hiett
The Public Reviews Rating:
Performers performing performers performing. Yes I know. Daunting. But also intriguing, rich with possibilities and, as it shouts from the top it’s lungs on press release and programme alike, dead ‘Fringe’.
Considering the limitations of an hour long run-time, Malengin (the creative combination of Peter Eastbrook and Jonathan Higgs) seem to have tried to cram a lot of ideas in. The story spans approximately ten years from a chance meeting between a suicidal comedy writer and an anxious member of staff at ‘Happy Endings Funeral Services’. The circumstances, and the consequences, of this meeting inform the story-telling style of the entire production.
The opening scene involves a drunk falling out of a cemetery tree and being tended to by ‘Happy Endings’ Mike (Eastbrook). The same tree-fall opener initiates the partnership of Niall (Higgs) and Mike, except this time the fall is the result of an abortive suicide attempt. The farcical motif is repeated a third time but, it is revealed, is a cut to a future scene for a comedy sketch drawn from the earlier ‘real life’ incident. A little bit confusing, certainly, but not yet too difficult. However as the sketchy nature of the play progresses, the structure of the play becomes increasingly unstable to the point where the story took on an ‘Inception’-like complexity: what level of the performance/fantasy/nightmare are we in right now, the script demands. Despite some excellent performances from the cast as a whole, the play was a little let down by the focus on interrogating the ideas of performativity and self-reference, to the detriment of the narrative. The question one can’t help posing is ‘what about the drunk?’ – a figure who proposes yet another layer of meta-ness – the possibility that the moment with the drunk may be, in fact, THE ONLY REAL THING THAT HAPPENS. In short, it’s a little too ambitious. But some cleaning up and paring down could do wonders for the writing.
There were, however, some choice moments where the potential of Eastbrook and Higg’s original writing really shone. The slightly surreal interviews in the second half of the performance also provide excellent material for showcasing the talent and versatility of Mick Cooper and Gareth Williams; Williams and his colourful battery of accents and arresting stage presence especially standing out as Freddy Rodd and Jimmy Krauss.
Jonathan Higgs lacks the natural swagger to seem quite right for the part of an egotistical diva with a poorly aligned moral compass. He works much better in his nice guy incarnation at the beginning of the play, however, his character development comes through this murky patch, the bitter despair which eventually drives him into a complex prison of his own fictional existence is well-expressed and at times genuinely gripping.
Credit must go to Peter Eastbrook, whose Niall Johnson was so believably awkward that I assumed he wasn’t really acting (I met him though, and he’s perfectly able to hold a conversation). Niall visibly flowered as his confidence grew as a performer in a way that was impressive to witness and demonstrated the psychological depth of the character as well as Eastbrook’s sensitive development of the role.