by James Graham.
Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Brasserie 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 19 June 2010.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 1hr 15min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (no booking fee).
www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk (reduced full-price tickets online).
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 June.
Taxing the performer makes for audience interest.
Existential angst suffuses James Graham’s play. Unlike ‘onion’-drama, which strips away layers of character to reveal new truths beneath, The Man assembles its character from a litter of papers; some lie around him, others – tickets and receipts – are in the audience’s hands. They form his story, as if You Are What You Spend.
Wherefore, therefore, the angst? Well, the year in question is the tax year. At first, the ‘Man’ is the tax-man, though HMRC is presented by a female voice answering our man’s worried questions with helpful clarity (though it’s unlikely any helpline would show this one’s potential to double as a dating agency).
Still, it shows this man can talk to people, amid a world of forms. And between the ’phone conversations, he talks to the audience, taking from them various documents handed out in advance. Each tells a story – or lets the man do so, as the title transfers from the tax man to the one in front of us.
So a brief history emerges. As the actor chooses people in random order, not knowing which document they have, the bigger picture develops in a different order at each performance. And Graham’s skill lies partly in ensuring it makes sense, however it’s assembled. I caught only one uncertain detail, which was explained later on – hardly disconcerting in modern dramatic structures.
Four men play The Man, the author included, at different performances. Graham the performer doubtless has the character precisely, while Samuel Barnett impressed at the press performance. Leander Deeny impresses too with his nervous stuttering on the ‘phone, grateful for someone who answers questions, then transferring that nervousness to worried eagerness in telling the stories behind the tickets and receipts.
Old stories can be dressed in new guises, but increasingly in theatre these days interest lies in either new places to tell those stories, or new formats for them. Graham has come up with an intriguing example of the latter as he pieces together a city life with its small and sudden large events, all bound in a disorganised unity which only the taxman calls to order.
Ben: Samuel Barnett/Leander Deeny/James Graham/George Rainsford.
Inland Revenue: Michelle Luther/Stephanie Thomas/Lizzy Watts.
Director: Kate Wasserberg.
Designer: Fly Davis.
Lighting: Tom White.