Brighton Fringe 2023
Paul Richards’ frenetic – frantic at times – depiction of a man struggling to navigate the modern world.
An intelligent, affable, man approaching middle age at first glance has found his place in the world. He has a job he seems to enjoy and be good at ; moreover is trusted by his employers. He is in a committed relationship and has a circle of friends (though it’s by no means certain how wide this is). But is all as it seems ? The audience enters The Rotunda’s Squeak tent to find the performer awaiting, attired in semi-formal business dress. The set is simple – a chair and a table. Richards greets the audience and the sense of ambiguity takes root – has the show actually started yet ? Learning that this is the 124th performance of this show, he begins with reciting “audience feedback”. Is this a comedic device ? A bizarre warm-up routine ? Or, subtly, a portent to a man seeking approval.
Richards then appears to morph into the eponymous character and recount events surrounding what ought to have been a mostly mundane Tuesday. A routine day at the office begins to take a series of difficult, frustrating, but critically time and energy consuming turns. His partner wants him to attend the school play with which she is involved. His mother wants him to take her shopping. He is bothered by a used car salesman and his charitable nature leaned upon. He has had a collision with a cyclist and we learn in slices that not only will the insurer not pay out, but that the cyclist is intending to prosecute. There is an undiagnosed problem with his eye. His best friend (of 3 years) is getting married later and he has a routine work meeting. As the day develops, however, it becomes clear that Greenfield’s company is in financial difficulty and they are placing their trust in him to bail them out. We also learn of somewhat more bizarre interruptions to his life – he is unexpectedly live on radio as part of a quiz, has unfathomably agreed to purchase a pig from a farmer and there is a message about a funeral for someone called Melvin, that he initially dismisses as a mistake. He has a minor bin dispute with a neighbour and we learn that he is drifting into a financial mess.
The constant stream of small interruptions to his day have a cumulative effect. Are humans naturally pre-disposed to seeking out the path of least resistance to get what we want, a form of societal natural selection ? If so, Greenfield is not so much running late, he is running out of time. The calls are relentless, each one placing a nuance of extra pressure on a man increasingly on the edge. Human beings recharge by eating and sleeping ; however, it is evident that Greenfield is struggling for sleep and today his attempts at eating are thwarted at each turn. Greenfield is clearly a man unable to say no to anything, the archetypal people pleaser, and society begins to tear him apart. Bertolt Brecht’s Der gute Mensch von Sezuan explores the battle between individual-being and species-being. The character there creates a fictitious cousin to keep the hordes at bay, a necessary survival mechanism. But Greenfield has no such protection device and is relentlessly ground down. The performance is punctuated by Stevie Wonder’s Uptight, an apparently upbeat soundtrack but, chillingly, the clue is in the title. Greenfield’s chosen industry – publishing – is increasingly under threat from the modern world ; this is clearly analogous to his being, and both are increasingly dysfunctional in the 21st century.
Paul Richards brings energy in abundance and charmingly, wittily, tells his tale, but the tale is a cautionary one : ignore strains upon your mental health at your peril. It is most definitely a Fringe show for our times and is highly recommended.