Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Two characters form an unlikely and increasingly incongruous relationship as they struggle to find normality. This thoughtful, often dark but touchingly humorous piece raises an important issue for the young generation seeking a position or even just a start in today’s world – what is normality?
Two small tea chests sit on the stage. Two men, R and K, enter. They are on one of the current myriad of Government training for work, starting work or getting back to work schemes, none of which seem to produce much in terms of beneficial output. They have been tasked with draining a duck pond. It’s a frightening statistic but there are currently over a million people like R and K in the UK alone, a generation of unemployed youngsters struggling for dignity in a world increasingly polarized between the haves and the have nots.
R is “real man”. K is socially inept and something of a geek he is still living with his parents. During their stilted conversation as they work, R persuades K to join him in the pub for a drink after work. R enjoys his lager whilst K sits nursing his bottle of water but gradually he opens up, carefully evaluating each revelation before dropping it into the conversation. It seems that by night K is a toaster. That’s a DJ to you and me but K is scornful of such a description believing that his brand of beat music conjoined with his extemporized voiceovers set him apart from the herd. But it sure doesn’t hit R’s music button as, after agreeing to attend one of K’s sessions, he deflates K with his withering assessment. The work project ends, the pair part company
Zoom forward an indeterminate period and we see K mature in a series of cleverly staged “flash” scenes – the stage goes to black, K dons apparel appropriate to his next stage of development, a spotlight comes on bathing him in its pool, we drink in the scene and we go to black again, and so on.
K joins the gainfully employed, testing computer games at one of those anonymous trading estates that seem to spring up like overnight mushrooms. We find R searching out K, his fortunes having headed in the opposite direction following the death of his father, a failure to find work and his resultant expulsion from the former family home. This leads him to lean on K for a few favours, including offering him a roof over his head.
The piece alternates cleverly between the dark struggle for control of the relationship and the general absurdities of life; a pop at the inadequacy of Boot’s Meal Deals, a discussion on the use of crème fraiche in stews and a battle over the Monopoly board introduces an element of surrealism to the pair’s increasingly taut conversations.
Michael McLean’s powerful piece, sympathetically directed by Tyne Rafaeli, shines a torch on the dynamics of a relationship, in this case one between two seemingly incompatible personas. R’s sense of worth and purpose as an individual erodes before our eyes, the macho bravado of his early exchanges with K replaced with an almost maternal concern as he fusses over K as the latter prepares to leave for work. In contrast, K gradually emerges from his shell, establishing a structure and sense of purpose palpably lacking in his struggling colleague’s life.
Dean Ashton and Thomas Morrison give sterling performances as R and K respectively. Ashton is initially physically imposing and confident and portrays R’s descent into alcohol induced depravity with conviction. Morrison is equally in touch with K, almost devoid of emotion throughout, rather like the computers that provide him with both solace and employment. The tension in the relationship ratchets up nicely with R’s attempts to control K being neatly deflected as the latter grows in confidence even to the extent of his developing a rival friendship with a fellow games tester, the (unseen) Gordon. In the end, it’s almost impossible to determine who depends on who in this relationship giving the piece a Pinteresque air which is accentuated by the actors’ frequent and adroit use of silence to convey their feelings. There is a touching poignancy about their search for normality and their frustration at the idiocies of life that get in the way of achieving that goal.
A whole generation now faces a similar quest for normality as the rules that governed the world of work and the sense of purpose that comes with that are tossed aside in the frantic struggle to stabilize a seemingly endless number of economies. That we need to collectively solve this conundrum is perhaps the kernel of McLean’s message. We would do well to heed it.