Brighton Fringe 2009
An Eastenders star and Australian actor, and a young director Chris Hislop come together in a creative collaboration which results in a one act play which is a darkly comic exploration of a man in fear of losing his touch as a writer, as well as his touch with reality
The story: "The Nullabor Gunslinger" is the artistic, oscar-winning-film-of-the-book triumph in James’s life, but is he a one-hit wonder? With an Eddie-Murphyesque Reindeer called "Moose" and a sociable but utimately flesh-hungry polar bear for company, as well as a range of other characters and voices, welcome to the head, and also the lonely inner and outer world of Chester James. A thousand kilometres south of the North Pole, apparently abandoned in Svalbard, paid to constantly keep watch over a seed vault, Chester seeks the idea that will mark his return to form as a writer, and perhaps as a human being.
This is an enjoyable and very off-beat comedy with shades of Kurt Vonnegut, and a clever interplay between live monologue and a dialogue with a panorama of characters and memories and imaginations inside the head of the central character, Chester James, played to perfection by Australian actor, Danny Alder.
As an "almost one-man show", this is a strong production, full of commitment, charisma, and just the right about of manic emotion that goes with being alone with only one’s imagination and thoughts for months on end. I say "almost" one man show, as Alder’s character interacts almost constantly with a soundtrack of imagined characters, music, and audio-memoryscape that gives the audience, not only direct access to the crumbling mind of James, but also his on-stage reactions.
This is a cleverly written and impressively executed piece of original theatre, an hour long, never dull, though sometimes the soundtrack which sets the stage for James to sing, interact with a range of characters, step into memories, and share new ideas for his "next work" with an empty birdcage, can overbalance the piece and we are left, as an audience, a little too passive, listening to what is too much recording and not enough live theatre. Also the various audio-set-pieces vary in quality and can also feel a bit repetitive. That said, they are mostly full of humour, sharp, and rarely gratuitous. When it works (which is nearly all of the time) the mix of live and recorded theatre and comedy is original, laughaloud funny, touching and often cutting in its observatons of mental decline, fear of loneliness and of generally "going nuts".
This is a man who needs to write something new and hoped isolation would help that process. Instead his isolation becomes more literally true than he could imagine and this makes for a compelling and enjoyable one act play. I highly recommend it.