Review: Odd Man Out at The Hope Theatre

The two shows that make up Odd Man Out – Dominic Grace’s Rabbitskin and Lesley Ross’ Diary of a Welshcake – weren’t written to be performed together. Nor are they similar in plot, character or even performance style. But what unites these powerful monologues is the themes of love, loss and isolation explored by their two protagonists: Joe, a sensitive book lover struggling to live up to the expectations of his father and four older brothers; and Ralph, a gay Welshman on a journey of self-discovery and unexpected romance in Hong Kong.

The first character to take the stage is Rabbitskin‘s Joe, who quickly wins our hearts with his shy smile, childlike innocence and obvious affection for both his family and his favourite books. His is a story that can only be told by dipping into others, and Grace’s script skilfully weaves episodes from Joe’s life together with the yarns spun by his father. Like both Joe and his dad, Luke Adamson proves himself a masterful and thoroughly engaging storyteller, who slips effortlessly between characters – one moment a wide-eyed seven-year-old Joe, the next his Irish father telling the legendary tale of¬†Cu Chulainn, the next his bullying brother Cal. He even manages to make something as mundane as the washing up sound utterly magical.

Photo credit: Luke Adamson

But stories will only protect you from real life for so long – and as sympathetic as Joe undoubtedly is, there’s a darker side to this character that refuses to stay hidden behind his defensive wall of fantasy. As the story begins to come together, and Joe’s placid demeanour cracks with increasing frequency, we know something is coming… yet the end of the story, when we arrive there, still shocks with its sudden brutality.

Gregory Ashton’s Ralph – also known as Tom – in Diary of a Welshcake is a somewhat different character; while still very likeable (and not just because he begins by handing out food) he doesn’t have Joe’s innocence, or feel quite so much a victim of his circumstances – perhaps because he ultimately acknowledges his own guilt over how the story of his Hong Kong adventure ends. Despite this, his is a much more openly comic tale, with a lot of the humour stemming from cultural differences, and particularly the absolute inability of characters from outside the UK to understand the difference between England and Wales.

Photo credit: Gregory Ashton

These other characters – male and female – allow Ashton to demonstrate his versatility as a performer; Ralph’s “predominantly heterosexual” American flatmate Matthew is a particular highlight, and there’s even a bit of (unfortunately inaccurate) Chinese in there at one point. Ashton’s been performing the show for over ten years, and it shows; his delivery falls somewhere between stand-up and theatre, so much so that the show begins to feel like it could actually be a true autobiographical account. The easy rapport that quickly develops between actor and audience is taken full advantage of later in the show as we’re invited to help recreate a dream of Ralph’s, a bizarre but very funny moment that deliberately steers us off course in the build-up to a shocking revelation.

Each of these stories could – and does – stand alone as a skilful portrayal of a man who doesn’t quite know who he is or where he belongs. Put together, they make for an evening that’s simultaneously laugh-out-loud funny and quietly heartbreaking, featuring two engrossing solo performances. If nothing else, come for the free food; you won’t regret it.

Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… ūüėČ

Review: The We Plays at The Hope Theatre

The two pieces that make up Andrew Maddock’s The We Plays¬†tell quite different stories. In one, a young tourist desperately chases the perfect Cyprus sunset, despite the best efforts of the airline, the weather and the annoying family next door to foil him. In the other, a feisty Scottish redhead takes on the Glasgow job market armed with her well-written CV, several gallons of Irn Bru and… a Viking helmet (obviously).

Photo credit: @headshottoby

Different stories they may be, staged by¬†different directors (Phil Croft and Ashley Winter respectively), but these two monologues have a common trajectory: they both creep up on us, drawing us into the characters’ lives and experiences, and making us laugh with their spot-on observations about their fellow human beings. And then each¬†suddenly takes a dark and disorienting turn, so that¬†before we know it we’re hearing quite a different story than the one we expected.

Now, I must admit I’ve seen the first piece, Cyprus Sunsets, before, so I wasn’t as taken aback this time by the twist in the tale – but that didn’t ruin it for me. In a way, knowing what’s coming actually makes the piece more powerful; there are hints scattered throughout that give the words new significance, and force¬†us¬†to consider how what’s really happening¬†could have gone unnoticed for so long. And John Seaward’s performance as frustrated tourist Me is certainly no less mesmerising, entertaining¬†or emotionally shattering second time around. To hold a roomful of people spellbound for 50 minutes whilst armed only with a suitcase and a pair of sunglasses is no mean feat, yet Seaward commands our attention with ease.

Irn Pru is, on the surface, the funnier of the two (although Cyprus Sunsets‘ biting commentary on the horror that is Brits abroad shouldn’t go unmentioned). Jennifer O’Neill swaggers around the stage, unafraid to stare down – and at one point openly rebuke – audience members, as Pru¬†channels the voice of her idol Michelle Mone (of bra fame) and demands that we line up to pay our respects. But there’s a softer side to the character, which first comes across in her evident love for her country; “my Glasgow, my Scotland” is a frequent tender refrain, and we’ve fallen for Pru long before we learn the devastating secret that turns out to be the real point of the story.

Photo credit: @headshottoby

Andrew Maddock’s rhyming verse is surprisingly easy on the ear, laced with fun surprises (I particularly enjoyed “trapped in / this crap tin”) and a regular return to key words and passages of the text, which gradually gain new meaning¬†as we learn more about the characters.¬†And as hard-hitting as both pieces undoubtedly are, exploring with unflinching honesty some troubling and hugely relevant topics, there’s an element of hope to each. This means¬†the audience walks out feeling, yes, a bit emotionally battered, but still¬†far from¬†defeated by what we’ve seen. Life does go on, after all, and – like Maddock’s characters – we have to go on with it.

Powerful writing, captivating performances and creative staging (who knew there were so many uses for a suitcase?) make The We Plays a must see double bill.

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