ABBI BROWN is impressed and comforted by this singular show
Like a novelty teapot emblazoned with images of Stephen Fry holding corgis, James Graham’s ‘the man’ is the epitome of contemporary English comedy: awkward, self-deprecating and painfully honest.
And just like the novelty teapot, although it’s neither particularly memorable nor bone-shakingly hilarious, I loved it at the time.
Essentially a one-man show, (although Joanna Clarke’s faultless portrayal of long-suffering Inland Revenue worker Lisa definitely deserves a mention), ‘the man’ is the story of a particularly eventful year in the life of self-employed online tutor, Ben Edwards (Raph Wakefield).
The plot develops haltingly, through anecdotes told in relation to receipts plucked at random from members of the audience as Ben struggles to complete the self-assessment form for his tax returns.
An unusual premise is thus made more unusual by the play’s form: the stories which each receipt triggers might come up in any order on any given night.
It’s a difficult play to perform, and Wakefield handles it with aplomb, launching into the story of each receipt or iTunes statement with scarcely a hesitation and somehow maintaining a sense of fluidity and momentum throughout. Despite the changeable structure of the play, our unlikely protagonist’s character develops naturally and believably. Within the first ten minutes, I found myself wincing or smiling in sympathy. When Ben coyly demonstrated his recently learned dance moves, the audience applauded with pride.
Set design was noticeably lacking; the play may have been simple, but the space could have been used much more creatively. As it was, the pressure was entirely on Wakefield to perform, and the crew are fortunate that he did.
As a graduate student surrounded by friends who seem to be breezing their way through City jobs, terrified of the day I attempt to follow in their footsteps and fall as flat on my face as Ben seems to have done, this was a strangely uplifting reminder that, even if it does all go tits-up, I won’t be the only one.
Ben is not ‘the man’, he is just a man, unsure whether or not he should even be defending or rallying against ‘the man’, certain only of his own miserable inadequacy. He’s hopeless, hapless and pathetic, but you find yourself rooting for him all the same.
So if you have an evening free this week, do pop along to see it. It won’t change your life, but hopefully you’ll still remember it by week five, and will be comforted by the thought that, however bad things might seems, at least you’re not Ben.