Adelaide Fringe 2013
In a claustrophobic little room, an unnamed man obsessively collects and absorbs information from newspapers. Newspapers are his source of entertainment, his clothes, and his connection to the world outside the walls. He even creates fictional relationships with photographs. All of that changes one day when he rips away paper from a boarded up window. He knows all about the world – why doesn’t the world know about him?
Like a cross between Raymond Babbitt and Larry Gopnik, our nameless protagonist (played brilliantly by Barnie Duncan) constantly paces around the room and breathlessly mutters repeated words. After awaking in a nest of newspapers, cuddling a shirt stuffed with paper scraps to resemble a human, he goes about his daily rituals. A newspaper slides through a slot in his door, and he pores over the contents, before writing down the days’ events. Once this is done, he works out clues to a crossword. It is a lonely existence, evidenced by his attempts to connect to a cut out photograph of a glamourous actress. Reading the obituaries is the turning point, when he becomes more self-aware of his sad surroundings, and tears away some of his paper fortress to look at the sky. After a momentary loss of confidence, he is given a sign by the crossword to go forth, and clad in armour made from newspaper (naturally), he finally decides to experience the real world.
The play goes for an hour, and Duncan is a committed actor. As well as having to shoulder the sole speaking role, he also displays a virtuoso talent for physical comedy, making an incredible range of props from newspaper at a quick speed. There was also plenty of humour to be mined from knowledge of the local Adelaide paper The Advertiser. The biggest laughs of the night however came from Duncan’s character obsessing over Keira Knightley’s photograph – you’ll never look at the Anna Karenina actress the same way again.
The venue was cramped and insulated with newspaper stickytaped to the walls, the ceiling and the windows, so Duncan should also be praised for having to work under suffocating conditions. Most of the audience were so wrapped up in the play that they didn’t mind the sweltering set too much, however some patrons, who were old enough to know better, were very rude, drunkenly making ‘funny’ comments and taking photos with the flash of their camera on (and they weren’t media). It was distracting for the other patrons and no doubt the performer, and The Tuxedo Cat might want to re-think their policies on audience members being able to take alcohol into shows.
Overall, it was a good play. The concept was original and clever, and the jokes, especially the topical ones, hit their mark. Duncan made good use of space, utilising ever corner of the room, and whilst the lighting was rather standard, special mention should go to the use of sound. Hollow and haunting sounds filled the room, similar to the score of the Lynch film Eraserhead, turning a scene that started off fun into something eerie and strange. Which, considering it was essentially a play about a recluse with mental problems, was really the point.
Admittedly it did go on for a bit too long, the middle scenes lagging, but by the end of the play I found myself hoping that the odd protagonist found a happy ending – he was strangely likable. Or should that be likeably strange?
Just like our hero’s beloved newspapers, ‘… Him’ is equal parts dark and light, and constantly surprising.