Good grief

13 April 2017

The visceral, emotionally jarring Sad Little Man keeps Eve Allin in suspense, then drops her into a gaping hole


Pub Corner Poets have this electric, sadistic knack of making plays that fuck shit up. They divide us, and it’s not just small problems and artistic choices that make us squabble, it’s properly massive ideological conflicts.

Lee (Oliver Strong) is doing stand-up tragedy, which is kind of how the whole show feels. Tyler Mortimer directs a form that slips in and out of physical theatre, genuine storytelling, and a strange mixture of sporadic voiceover and projections of cartoon dicks.

The two characters are in love; that much is clear. Emily (Danielle Harris) and Lee are a couple that the audience believe in, and we want them to be happy. The physicality of the sex, laughter, love and anguish of their relationship feels visceral and private. Protected by a thick wall separating the audience from their relationship, Strong and Harris jump into each other’s arms and simultaneously suck helium out of kitsch, heart-shaped balloons, oblivious to their voyeurism. Then Strong is aware of the audience again, at a microphone, choking on his grief.

Strong tells a story, and it’s a stunning, bittersweet story. The kind that makes you want to be a better writer. The kind of story that lets you know how it ends, but still makes you listen to the whole thing. We are made to listen to the whole of Lee’s story.

Or is it Emily’s story? I’m not sure. I’m never really sure what’s happening. I know I’m meant to feel sad. Doing what it says on the tin kind of thing. We’re told that Lee feels sad like a child, but we feel sad like a deep, grieving, bitter, angry sad.

There’s a bath and there’s a woman in it. She is delicate and fragile, but I so badly want her to be strong. Then there’s more stand-up.

The shifts in this show are rapid and emotionally jarring. I’m laughing and there’s heavy electro and spoken word and shots and more projection (about which I still don’t know how I feel). The show is an hour but actually it's four seconds. There’s a ticking clock (and the countdown is in a different font to the writing, which makes me uncomfortable but it doesn’t matter). I need to know what happens in that final second.

I’m not sure yet. The audience aren’t sure yet.

Then I know. The taps are turned on and now, I know. Strong screams at her to stop – not yet, he says, not yet I’m not ready. But the audience are ready; we’re ready to know what happens because the emotional trauma confronting us feels a little… elongated. Strong is lying below the bath, the microphone hanging inches from his mouth. It feels like an ending. He is talking about an ending. This should be the end.

Your audience is smart and they know what’s happened.

The next 10 minutes feel unnecessary. A knife doesn’t need to be shown for the audience to be tangibly torn by her actions. Strong doesn’t need to drag her out of the bath for the audience to feel ripped apart by this tragedy. Everything else in this show is about taking 40 minutes to describe one second – don’t let that be disrupted.

In the final third of the show, the audience see Harris’ character, Emily, inch closer to her death without saying a word. Her silence feels like a violent rejection of female agency. Sorry, if that wasn’t your intention. Sorry, if that didn’t cross your mind. But ultimately, your female lead says a total of 10 words in thousands. I absolutely understand why it happened – she’s not given agency because she’s not present in his life anymore. Completely dramaturgically logical. What I need is the purpose behind that to be clear. It is as much her story as it is his – it is her illness, her suicide, her death (I think?). It’s tiring seeing women as props on stage. We can do better.  

Remember that your audience is clever and they figure you out quicker than you can.


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Photo credit: Aenne Pallasca