If we’re a snowflake generation, then Letterbox’s latest play is a bitingly cold frost.
John Broadhead excels in this one man show at Alington House that ricochets around some taboo topics to delve a little deeper into tackling a screwed-up society head on. If you’re looking for an easy ride, you’d be lured in by the free cups of tea and cake that commence the play, but the tea sits to chill once Broadhead takes over, and there are moments where cake seems grotesque.
With a warm tone and light touches of humour, Broadhead gives us unfiltered access to his character of Rob: an awkward twenty-something that lives with his family, works in a call centre and has recently become obsessed with his best friend Stacy. Maybe it’s a support group, or maybe it’s therapy: we don’t know where Rob is, but Broadhead begins with an urgent energy that relentlessly drags us along with him for the full hour and forces us to listen to a lesser-known side to the story.
We weave in and out of the present, journeying along all the roads that led him to where we are now, and as Rob becomes distressed, his frantic intensity throws out questions of masculinity and social conditioning. The descriptions he gives of women he has been with are callous, which begins to stop washing over us as it becomes clear how these skin-deep judgements effect the psyche and have consequences. Expect to feel sick and scared as events unfurl around this lovable but misled young man.
One-person-shows have a reputation for being tiresome exercises of self-aggrandizement, which Letterbox Productions have fearlessly dodged. Broadhead is supported by a strong team that creates an enrapturing performance, directed by Alice Chambers and Hannah Roe.
Above him, the faces of those he mentions are projected in cold, objective light, which at times creates a feeling of enclosure and judgement bearing down upon us. The photography of Glenn Hay, combined with Zoe Lawton and Tristan Ashley’s graphics skills, created an impressive trailer and objectively cold stills subtle enough to complement Broadhead’s performance.
The projections flick between his friends’ faces with immediate accuracy, alongside audio accompaniments to make up conversations, which sometimes jars but avoids detracting any attention away from Rob.
Producer Rachel Tan has knitted a slick show. Broadhead is supported on stage by a menagerie of items that narrate the story before we’ve even had our tea poured. Whilst the empty beans cans are purely for the aesthetic, there’s some exciting use of wine to make the stomach turn, and the audience surrounding the stage allows for some inescapably intimate direction.
The women are represented by inflatable dolls, which is the perfect darkly comic yet shockingly pertinent tone of this play.
It’s a very difficult topic, that cannot be skated over lightly. I felt angry, sick and shocked for much of this performance, but left being forced to spread the net of blame wider, and so my perspective had been adjusted. That is what theatre is about.
Photography: Letterbox Productions