Neck or Nothing
Reviewed – 26th April 2019
“They balance sincerity and comedy throughout, allowing the audience a laugh even when the situation is heartbreakingly hopeless”
With a title like that and a poster of a lone bear standing tall and magnificent (in a space suit), it would be easy to assume the general plot outline – quirky man goes for gold, sacrifices everything, comes out victorious. The American dream is real, people! You just have to sacrifice everything! And apparently buy a space suit. And be a bear…
‘Neck or Nothing’ follows the story of Jens (James Murfitt), a man with a dream to make the ultimate contribution to humankind; to be the hero the world needs. And he plans on doing this whilst living in his brother Frank’s garage, being funded by his wife Martha (Katy Daghorn) who pulls double shifts at a failing bakery.
Co-writers and directors Christopher Neels and Callum Cameron have created a character with all the trappings of a victorious underdog: obsessive single-mindedness, a plan that seems completely ridiculous, a loving family whose faith begins to waver, and a small town that laughs at his brilliance. But rather than taking it to its Rocky Balboa conclusion, instead they highlight the sad reality of this trope, and of the inevitable damage caused by self-inflicted isolation, and toxic masculinity in general.
Murfitt, Daghorn and North all deliver enthusiastic and engaging performances. They balance sincerity and comedy throughout, allowing the audience a laugh even when the situation is heartbreakingly hopeless. Their characters are all surprisingly fleshed out – another twist on the classic underdog story, where all other characters beside the lead are usually kept in soft-focus.
Costume and set design (Sophia Pardon) are efficient but good fun – the star of the show is of course Jens’ ‘invention’- a home-made ‘ironman’ costume, cupcake tray serving well as a steel six-pack and cycling knee pads making excellent superhero-square shoulders. The video and lighting design (Rachel Sampley) does well to create various spaces on a small stage without overcomplicating and distracting from the main event.
In all, Neels and Cameron have succeeded in creating an off-beat comedy with just enough heart to get their message across, but not so much that you want to look away for sheer embarrassment. I look forward to seeing what Fledgling Theatre Co do next.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Veronika Casarova
Neck or Nothing
Pleasance Theatre until 4th May
Previously reviewed at this venue:
On the Piste
Jack Studio Theatre
Reviewed – 26th October 2017
“John Godber’s script remains fresh and is delivered beautifully”
Jack Studio Theatre is rapidly becoming a favourite haunt of mine. Tucked away in South East London, not only is it situated inside a very nice pub with great food and tasty cocktails, but the productions presented by artistic director Kate Bannister in this comfortable and compact space are varied and proving to be exceptionally good.
Two couples arrive in snowy Chamonix; long term partners Alison and Chris, trying out a snow-vacation for the first time, and new lovers Bev and Dave, novices on skis who are still learning about each other’s wants and needs. Neither couple is instantly enamoured with the other.
Coaching them from Health & Safety nightmares to sliding-down-a-slope-while-remaining-mostly-upright capability is the fit, flirty, perma-tanned and passionate instructor Tony (enthusiastically played by Robbie Smith), whose presence oozes potential chaos.
As their lessons progress we see what kind of people they may be, and how they deal with each other and interact with their attentive coach. During their après-ski drinks we learn their histories and secrets, their insecurities, cute quirks and annoying habits, and along the way – too much information about one couple’s bedroom role play!
The physical comedy is at the right level for me. I’ve never been a fan of slapstick and the play doesn’t rely on on stage pratfalls to make a point, leaving costume (and first aid) to move time along and tell the story.
A sense of distance between Chris and Alison (realistically portrayed by Andrew Agnes and Ellie Jackson) and a sense of discovery bursting through Dave and Bev’s burgeoning relationship managed to create almost non stop amusement (due partly to James Murfitt’s comic timing and Ceris Hine’s brilliant physical comedy). The audience’s laughs, though at times bittersweet, were universal.
John Godber’s script, originally written in 1990, remains fresh and is delivered beautifully, even during Bev’s toe-curling whine! A simple yet versatile set kept the focus on the performance. The very capable cast managed to maintain character through farce, fury and nudity despite being within touching distance of their appreciative audience.
On The Piste speeds slalom style from mountain to hotel, via sauna and cable car, towards an increasingly inevitable outcome. I found myself continuously giggling – I don’t laugh out loud often, but I made quite a few exceptions for this play.
Reviewed by Joanna Hinson
Photography by David Ball
ON THE PISTE
is at Jack Studio Theatre until 7th November