Edinburgh Fringe 2010
This two man show offers a brief snippet into the life of two very different men brought together by chance. It offers an insight into the relationship which grows between them and the subsequent connections and similarities which reveal themselves. Powerfully acted and thoughtfully staged, the small cast and production team have created a moving and thoroughly enjoyable piece of theatre.
Jeffrey Mayhew’s Bright is the Ring of Words is a window into the life of a fallen musical genius, John, and his carer, Stanley. John (Mayhew), once a successful, world renowned singer, has succumb to drink and now lives in a grimy bedsit, alone and filthy. Stanley (John Garfield-Roberts) is on community service for throwing a bin through the window of a corner shop after a drunken night out celebrating his latest karaoke victory. The play depicts the few hours prior to a visit of Miranda, John’s estranged daughter, and Stanley’s desperate attempts to make John, and his depraved and squalid existence, slightly more presentable.
Mayhew’s play is brilliantly written. He manages to capture the savagely bitter humour of the once-great musician who is also just a selfish and ageing man doggedly remorseless of his past and yet ultimately fearful of the appalling legacy of desertion and betrayal he has left behind. Stanley provides a beautiful contrast with his comforting northern dialect and good-natured chit chat. Though he too has a jaded past; Stanley has suffered at the hand of his own father’s alcoholism. In a stunningly written and harrowingly performed monologue at the end of the play, the audience begin to understand Stanley’s deep concern over John’s predicament.
Garfield-Roberts’s performance is effecting. His sing-song voice and house-proud busyness beautifully contrast his yobbish crime and large physique presenting us with a complex character who is frequently vulnerable in the hands of prejudice and social deprivation. The monologue at the end is captivating and deeply moving, though that deep level of focus was not necessarily maintained throughout the whole show. Mayhew gives a disturbing performance of a man who is literally wasting away but who still vulgarly clings on to his past glory and sexual conquest. His physicality in itself is moving; his tiny, shaking frame almost disappears next to his seemingly giantesque carer who can effortlessly pick him up and move him around. Mayhew captures the utter degradation of a man who has lost all hope of dignity and every morsel of lust for life.
Director Julian Garner has used the small space effectively at once insinuating the cramped, claustrophobic environment of John’s (at times cringingly filthy) flat and highlighting Stanley’s awkward size and outsider’s status.
As a kitchen sink drama, Bright is the Ring of Words, does everything it should do; the audience remain firmly behind the fourth wall allowing a voyeuristic peak into a random sample of human life. There is no one message; I did not leave tutting about the evils of booze. Rather, I left with a profound sense of the variety of life, the small tragedies which continuously occur unseen and the unpredictable nature of random unions between people. The audience where clearly moved; nervous, high-pitched laughter mixed with cringing moans and tense silences all filled the small auditorium. It is a heavy show to see, but it is not depressing. Mayhew has captured a truth that, though cynical, bitter and at times brutal, is none-the-less real and it is this realism that has been so successfully captured in all aspects of this production.
On leaving this performance I was in no doubt that it had earned a full five stars; the acting is stunning, the writing clever and well structured and the staging and directing are tight and seamless. However, although I cannot fault it, However, it lacks an extra spark of originality and inventiveness which is often lacking in this genre. Having said that, I would thoroughly recommend this play to true theatre lovers who fancy a bit of old fashioned kitchen sink realism performed at the highest level. A highly recommended show.