As a Man Grows Younger
Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 21st February 2019
“David Bromley brings Colyer’s words to life with impressive energy”
Italo Svevo was a correspondence clerk, then a businessman. Now, in his sixties, he is finally getting recognition for his writing. Thanks to his friend James Joyce, his new novel is the talk of Paris. One reviewer even says he’s a genius: ‘the Italian Proust’. But it’s difficult to enjoy such success when Fascism has taken over your country. When, Svevo wonders, will Mussolini turn his attention to him? When will his work be banned? Having just emerged, is he about to disappear?
Howard Colyer’s monologue has Svevo ruminating on this and much more, as he waits for the reviews of his new play. As his mind runs back and forth between his present fear and past triumph, Svevo himself runs up and down a ladder and all around the room, occasionally bumping into a fragment of the past that has found itself on the floor or in an old suitcase. It’s like his mind has exploded and he’s just started picking up the pieces. Karl Swinyard stuffs Svevo’s house in Trieste with details: a noticeboard is covered in clippings, dates, and the note “L.C.” (Last Cigarette), an old chest lies drowned in a sea of books. The shuttered windows are a reminder of the hidden world outside, but nothing, not even Mussolini himself, can touch Svevo’s ancient typewriter or worn violin. It is beautiful and evocative, a little corner of the world trapped in its own time.
David Bromley brings Colyer’s words to life with impressive energy. He gives Svevo lightness and likability, making his stories interesting and his eccentricities charming: it is difficult to dislike him. Bromley also does several turns as important people in Svevo’s life – Joyce, Mussolini, suspicious mother-in-law Olga – and executes them with a comic touch. It feels as though he is having fun in the role, which makes him easy to watch.
But, whilst Bromley gives more than enough to this production, an important figure is missing: Joyce, who shaped so much of Svevo’s life. Although several anecdotes are told, they are not the highlights they deserve to be, and become lost within Colyer’s muddled structure. His attempt to write in a Modernist style is successful, but it comes at the expense of some of the key moments. Whilst some events come to life before our eyes with stunning realness, others feel flat. Given that Svevo led such a varied life, it is a real shame that it cannot be presented with the same flair with which it was lived.
As a Man Grows Younger isn’t a play that will change the world, but it is still a reminder of the power, beauty and necessity of words in a time of crisis. For a man who thought he was about to disappear, Svevo and his story remain more vibrant than ever.
Reviewed by Harriet Corke
Photography by Tim Stubbs Hughes
As a Man Grows Younger
Jack Studio Theatre until 23rd February
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