Forge – The Vault
Reviewed – 4th March 2020
“a rollicking Irish comedy with the power to evoke hilarity, tension and sadness in equal measure”
Pinocchio had Jiminy Cricket, King Lear had the Fool, Lyra Belacqua had Pantalaimon. In Alan Mahon and Rhys Dunlop’s play “Lad” Steve has a cocky conscience who is more likely to suggest giving a little wolf whistle and tempting women with the contents of his codpiece than offering sound advice.
For while Steve is sensitive, plagued by self-doubt and considerate of women his still, small voice wants him to be one of the lads, think about sex constantly, grow some balls and man up.
After their recent thought-provoking production of “Flights” at the Clapham Omnibus Theatre, One Duck Theatre have this shorter offering at the VAULT Festival which is equally about masculinity, what makes men tick and how the company they keep can rob them of feelings, emotions, common sense and decency.
It’s a rollicking Irish comedy with the power to evoke hilarity, tension and sadness in equal measure helped along by two star performances by the writers and some understanding and creative touches from director Thomas Martin.
Mahon plays Steve, the quiet and likeable supermarket shelf filler preparing a best man’s speech for his friend’s wedding. There’s a mysterious undercurrent to his character as we discover he was formerly an accountant and has clearly lost some laddish friends owing to an event in the past for which he is reluctant to apologise.
As Steve tries to pluck up the confidence to date the maid of honour and, in parallel, applies for a job as a tour guide at the local zoo, his larger than life conscience (think Deadpool with voices that are constantly cocksure and unpleasantly self-gratifying) encourages him along a dark path of bad behaviour. Dunlop is wonderfully crude and uninhibited as the sort of mate who is the life and soul of every party but who always manages to persuade you to cross boundaries and go that step too far when it comes to being acceptable.
There is one piece of inwardly lit set (designed by Dunlop, Mahon and Martin) which serves as everything from a pub table to a urinal – though on closer inspection you realise that its interesting shape symbolises the male sexuality that throbs throughout the drama. (A voice warns us at the start that if we are offended by the set it is going to be a long show.)
Pulsating lighting (Cillian McNamara) and sound (Ekaterina Solomatina) move the action along swiftly and nimbly, reflecting changes of location and mood easily.
“Lad” offers a sound contemporary reflection on boyish culture, raising questions about unchecked attitudes to women and life in general, and there are quite rightly significant moments of embarrassment and sadness as the nice guy yields to temptations.
Yet this is not a play without hope. Ideal for this type of small-scale venue it has big issues to raise as it questions matters of manhood, the building of character and just how hard it can be to fit in.
Reviewed by David Guest
Photography by Keith Dixon