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Edinburgh Fringe 2010

Underneath the Lintel

Landmark Productions

Genre: Drama

Venue: Assembly on the Mound - Rainy Hall


Low Down

‘An existential detective story’, Underneath the Lintel tells the story of a humorous and endearing middle-aged ex-librarian collecting clues that he hopes will lead him to the whereabouts of a man almost impossible to find.



On stage is a large blackboard with some French verbs listed upon it, left over from some previous lecture, a large whiteboard set behind a slide projector, a large wooden table and a hat stand.  We are in a lecture theatre, and as no sooner have the front of house given clearance than a tubby man wearing an overcoat and hat, and carrying a large, tatty, brown suitcase comes bustling down the steps of the auditorium.  He is a retired librarian from Holland – retired against his will.  That is to say, sacked.  But the comical reasons for this will transpire through the course of the play. 

He is here to share with us, his audience, a number of pieces of evidence from which he hopes to discover the whereabouts of a person who owes a fine to the library, a fine for a travel book some hundred and thirteen years overdue.  After this librarian character has made his entrance, he returns briefly up the aisle to ask the usher if this is all there is, and telling us that he expected a better turnout considering all the posters he put up – a device which is humorous but gets the play off to a pretty slow start.

But Philip O’Sullivan plays this bustling character well, his physicality is amusing yet believable and his musical rolling voice, interspersed with odd humorous excited squeak, is a pleasure to listen to.  Or it would be, were it not for the fact that his lines are often spoken too fast to make out what he is actually saying.  This problem is only occasional to begin with but steadily gets worse throughout the course of the play. 

As this ex-librarian shares with us his collected clues as to the whereabouts of the book borrower he is so desperate to trace, we are increasingly amused by the absurdity of the trail he follows.  His variety of clues and their unexpected connections inspire intrigue in his audience: a pair of trousers in a Chinese laundrette on the Holloway Road, a train ticket from 1912 in Bohn, a vet’s report on a quarantined dog.  As he presents us with this evidence – all the while noting dates and important points on the blackboard and sharing charming slide projections of all the places around the world where his hunt has taken him – his humorous story of how he came to be fired from the library begins to become clear – it is his obsession with this investigation that has led to his dismissal.  Simultaneously the investigation gradually begins to reveal the mythical story of the wandering Jew, the man who can never die and can never rest. 

As the librarian’s need for the answers become more desperate, something quite poignant and sad is revealed about this man, and his character begins to turn from humorous to tragic – a development which O’Sullivan plays well, but which would be much more moving were we actually able to understand how his tangential musings actually connect to the story.  The odd philosophical lines in the writing would also be quite lovely, but sadly, again, the actor’s attempts to be animated blur the clarity of his lines.  The librarian tells us: we are here because we are here, so perhaps there is no point to this story.  If there is, it is lost entirely.  Or the clues that might lead us to finding it are just too hidden away.  So when I come to leave the theatre, I am left feeling very much like something’s been missed out.