Camden Fringe 2019
‘Jim Clapp: Magnum Opus’ is a meta-theatrical piece. It’s a play about a play that goes wrong and about its creator who is doing everything he can to still give the audience a show – while giving the audience a show. It is directed by co-writer Tim McNiven and performed by co-writer Sam Rix.
‘Magnum Opus’ is Jim Clapp’s masterpiece – he believes. He is putting it on at the Camden Fringe and has prepared an extravagant show with lots of lighting and special effects, an expensive magnificent set and even included live animals in the show. It is the opening night and the stakes are high. There are reviewers in the audience and even a Radio 4 producer. But there is a small issue… the set and animals are scattered around the M4 (partially on fire) and the actors have bailed. The stage is empty, the audience has arrived and Jim is desperate to deliver a show.
From the moment we walk in the Lion and Unicorn empty theatre, we can hear yelling coming from backstage. In the first row, there are two seats reserved, which is not really eye-catching unless you happen to read who they are reserved for… Tom Hiddleston. The audience takes their seat and once the auditorium door is closed, the show starts –
Jim Clapp (Sam Rix) stops yelling and walks on stage to acknowledge us. It is awkward. He explains what has happened tells us how much he knows we are happy for him to cancel the show and just buy him a drink, but he refuses. So he sets out to make that play happen no matter what and he intends to use members of the audience to help him.
There are plenty of drama school jokes, RADA jokes and theatre jokes in general, but none of them are inside jokes that non-industry audience wouldn’t get. As Jim teaches one of the audience how to act, he makes a mockery of the animal exercise (or rather those that take it a bit too seriously). It is a hilarious moment, while the confused audience member is asked to be in all fours and moo, wondering what on earth they signed up for, but seemingly as much entertained as the rest of us.
Rix has a good connection with the audience; he comes very close to us, staring straight in our eyes, yelling in our faces, putting his feet on our chairs and even falling on someone too. It all works great and it’s never too much unless someone really doesn’t want to be involved in which case this play is either not for them or they need to sit right at the back.
As Jim tries to create the show with only the help of two audience members, no set and no tech he ends up having to explain a lot of things; “Imagine there’s a tree here”, “Now the Romans appear”, “Did I mention the characters are immortal?” It is joke, after joke and impression after impression – with a notable impression of Winston Churchill who apparently asked Jim’s help when deciding whether to side with the Nazis or fight them. The comedy is never too much because it works and it lands every single time.
But apart from all the jokes and the yelling and Jim’s pompous attitude, there is a story that slowly comes to the surface. Jim is hurting. His daughter doesn’t speak to him, he doesn’t appear to have a partner and after many years investing time and money in theatre, he doesn’t have much to show for it.
Jim is a big character, but he is not a caricature in any way. He is a very real passionate and desperate seasoned thespian, who hasn’t had a break. Perhaps because he is too arrogant to acknowledge that not everything is about him. There is a brilliant moment when Jim mocks Tom Hiddleston, apparently his daughter’s boyfriend, for talking about himself in an interview. “Who talks about themselves?” He asks having spent already forty minutes talking about himself.
I would definitely encourage more audience participation. Although Rix constantly speaks directly to the audience, there is essentially only two audience member who truly participate in the show. My view is not that more people need to come on stage as much as Rix (or rather Jim) needs to acknowledge the audience more when they react to him. It all feels very real; we are there, we are Jim’s audience and when he speaks to us directly, especially when asking questions, it’s impossible not to react. But there doesn’t seem to be much acknowledgment when we do. Although of course the show is scripted, it does have room for improvisation when interacting with the audience he calls on stage, so why not extend that to the rest of the audience?
Overall ‘Jim Clapp: Magnum Opus’ is an extremely entertaining, very daring and utterly funny piece of theatre.