Writer: Geoff Thompson
Director: Nigel Francis &Geoff Thompson
Reviewer: James Garrington
“I am special” says the man whose name the audience never hears. “Everything that happens to me is good.” He is special because that is what he was told. Told by someone he trusted, indeed idolised. Someone who then betrayed that trust. Now the only way he can try to find some salvation is to tell his story to a tape recorder.
Geoff Thompson’s semi-autobiographical play is powerful stuff. Over the course of 70 minutes we hear a harrowing tale of abuse, denial and a search for redemption. Nigel Francis is “One”, a man who was abused as a child and thirty years on is still trying to come to terms with the guilt and shame. Francis carries this show on his shoulders from start to end, and he clearly invests a lot of himself into it. Suffering from violent mood swings, he changes abruptly and convincingly from calm to angry to depressed, and to a feeling of resignation. Francis does not only play “One”, however; during the play there are some small vignette scenes where he plays his mother, who rejects him when he tries to talk to her about events because she does not want him to “bring shame on this house”, causing him to display a confused anger which is almost palpable. Francis also plays a therapist, the man he turns to when he finally comes to terms with the fact he needs help, only to be told to tell his woes to a tape recorder, as it will not judge him.
A play of this sort is inevitably very intense, and Francis works hard to maintain that intensity throughout. A very small venue like the 55-seat Old Joint Stock, playing in the round, only adds to the intensity giving the actor, like his character, nowhere to hide. What it also does, though, is demand a level of commitment from the audience too, as they, like the actor, also have nowhere to hide in this venue; and that can be a big ask. As a result, at this performance it felt a little as though some of the audience started to detach from the play from time to time. It is a credit to Francis, and his performance, that by the end the audience were drawn back in. The play is destined for Edinburgh and the Fringe later this year, and perhaps trimming it to run at just an hour, as many venues prefer, would help the audience to invest the energy and commitment that is needed if they are to appreciate the full Fragile experience.
This play contains some very adult themes and language, and may be difficult for some people to watch. For those who can stick with it, it proves to be a compelling and powerful piece of drama.
Runs until 7th June 2014