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

Interview: Luke Adamson and Gregory Ashton, Odd Man Out

Odd Man Out is a double bill of stories about people who don’t quite fit in, coming to The Hope Theatre later this month. Performed by The Hope’s Associate Director Luke Adamson and Off West End award nominated Gregory Ashton, these two one-man shows examine male mental health, sexuality, bullying… and elephants.

Rabbitskin is Joe’s story,” says Luke. “He’s a master storyteller like his dad and delights in the smallest of details. Inspired by his heroes, Holden Caulfield, Charles Dickens and the rest, he sets out to tell his story – but growing up as the youngest and smallest of five brothers in Leeds with only his dad to raise them wasn’t easy, and Joe struggles to keep on track.”

“And¬†Welshcake¬†is the story of a Welshman who travels half way across the world and falls in love in the most unlikely of ways,” continues Gregory. “He also happens to be an elephant – make of that what you will. So I guess it‚Äôs a love story but with a twist.”

Luke originally appeared in Rabbitskin in 2013, while Gregory’s been performing Diary of a Welshcake for over ten years. So why put the two together? “I guess they are both¬†really lovely¬†examples of¬†adult¬†storytelling, but more than that they connect with that basic need to understand where we fit in,” says Gregory. “When I was reading¬†Rabbitskin¬†certain lines and moments from¬†Welshcake¬†just popped out at me and I thought, ‘Ooh, yes, these will work¬†together.’

“I¬†think identity and¬†‚Äúfitting in‚Ä̬†are definitely¬†strong there, but also why we define ourselves in whatever group we choose to. The main protagonists in¬†Welshcake¬†are from different cultures and yet neither really feels 100% part of that culture, and so they seek something in the other that is either an escape or simply a way to connect with who they are. I‚Äôm getting on a bit now, and so I have seen many people struggle with identity and the notion of ‘where do I belong’ and it is one of the things that really drives us. But what makes us human is the ability to connect with those outside of¬†our comfort zone¬†and in these very divisive times, that message is always one that is worth exploring.”

“Yeah, as Gregory mentioned there are certain thematic crossovers and even some lines that are shared,” adds Luke. “Together they will present an audience with a moving but hopefully uplifting evening at the theatre.

“There are definitely thematic links in that it is two people telling the story of their lives and finding out where they fit and I guess it touches as well on the broader idea of identity; what makes us who we are? Who we become? And this is universal and will touch different people in different ways.”

Luke came across Dominic Grace’s¬†Rabbitskin¬†quite by accident: “I was called in to audition for it at the West Yorkshire Playhouse a few years ago. As soon as I read the script I was hooked. I knew I had to do this play! It is so well written, poetic and touching and laugh out loud funny. And Joe is a dream of a character. I’m so delighted to have an opportunity to share this piece again.”

Gregory, meanwhile, has a personal connection to Diary of a Welshcake.¬†“Well, I grew up in Hong Kong, and I¬†definitely sound more Michael¬†McIntyre than Michael Sheen, so the idea of telling the story of a Welshman who sounds¬†English and ends up teaching in Hong Kong was always a no brainer for me.

“I’ve been performing versions of the show for a long time now, but having someone like Steve¬†Marmion¬†– who’d directed me in another¬†one-man¬†show, Madam Butterfly‚Äôs Child –¬†come in and reshape the piece was a godsend,¬†and really changed how I felt about the connection I could make with an audience, by simply just letting them into the story.¬†I also think I have a much better understanding of where I fit in this world¬†myself¬†and that has changed how I play certain moments, definitely.¬†I’ve played the piece all over the world now, so watching different cultural responses to different parts has been fascinating; it‚Äôs a constant learning curve‚Ķ”

He also enjoys the audience participation element of the show: “My¬†favourite¬†part! I’m a great believer in what I call ‚ÄúSafe‚ÄĚ participation. Nothing mortifying, nothing cruel, but just the odd moment where the audience help the action along. It is lonely up there on your own – I am sure Luke can vouch for that – so feeling the audience is actually helping you create your world is a wonderful sensation. But again, in a safe way. For example, in Madam Butterfly‚Äôs Child the audience had to be 4,000 people at the Albert Hall‚Ķ as a group, no one singled out. Although ‚Äúsafe‚ÄĚ for the audience doesn‚Äôt always translate to ‚ÄúSafe‚ÄĚ for me: in¬†Welshcake¬†there is a pivotal¬†plot moment that involves the creation of‚Ķ but can‚Äôt give anything more away other than to say‚Ķ I‚Äôve only been hurt once.”

As Associate Director at The Hope, Luke has plenty of good things to say about the show’s venue. “The Hope is a family. It’s a place for people to take chances and break new ground on the Off West End scene. I’m so proud of the Equity agreement, the exciting and varied programming and¬†the work we’ve done here over the past few years, and I was delighted that Matthew quite deservedly won Artistic Director of the year at the most recent Offies.”

Gregory’s equally complimentary: “Everyone who works at the Hope is paid. It may not be a huge amount, but everyone is paid and I think that is a huge thing, because everyone feels valued for the work that they do. There is a real team spirit, and under the leadership of Matthew Parker, that sense of commitment to a great and thriving fringe filters down beautifully: I have never been let down when I have been as an audience member, and I cannot wait to return there as a performer.”

So why should we come to see Odd Man Out? “Well, I am going to get humble here and say ‘to see Luke Adamson'”, says Gregory. “He is an exquisite young actor and I can‚Äôt wait to see him bring¬†Rabbitskin¬†to life. And then¬†you can¬†have a drink in the interval, and come and share the story of an elephant abroad.

“I hope that people go away with a sense of¬†how huge a world¬†can be created with just one person and a few props.¬†Fringe is so important and proves that you can have an amazing night out for a lot less money! But more importantly, if one person leaves that theatre and plans to be kinder to the next odd man out that they meet, well I will be satisfied.”

“Haha! Bit of extra pressure there. Thanks for that!” says Luke. “I’m going to say people should come to see two gorgeously moving stories beautifully told. Hopefully people will leave feeling moved but with a smile on their faces. Like they feel richer for the experience. For me that’s when theatre is at its best.”

Book now for Odd Man Out at The Hope Theatre from 26th July-12th August.