at Warwick Arts Centre, Saturday 12th February 2011
It’s rare that one sees a production of student drama which is so impressive it could have been created by professionals. Scripts as complex and unusual as Fin Kennedy’s How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found are difficult enough to do justice with a huge team of creatives, a large budget and ample time to rehearse, but Gwilym Lawrence has created a production which explores all the intricacies of the original text with extraordinary performances to boot.
Charlie Hunt, a twenty-nine year old brand manager, is stuck in a rut. His life is repetitive, dull and unfulfilling, He turns to drink and drugs, but still this isn’t enough. After a terrible incident he runs to Mike, who gives him all the advice he needs so that he may disappear completely and become Adam, starting a new life for himself. Even with a new identity, however, nothing changes; life is just as repetitive, just as dull, just as unfulfilling. The plot sounds deceptively simple, but Kennedy injects new twists, revealed identities and unforeseen relationships which keep us hooked throughout.
How to Disappear Completely… is ostensibly a play about identity, asking us to think about what makes us who we are. Under Lawrence’s direction, however, many more elements of Kennedy’s script are extracted. Focus is laid on conformity; external characters seem to be stereotypes, standing in straight lines and wearing matching clothing, suggesting they have been conditioned by the society in which they were raised. The darkly comic aspects of the script are extrapolated, showing the futility of our lives and how much in our existence is laughable.
Set, sound and lighting highlight these aspects perfectly. Charlie Ash’s simple but ingenious five-sided table design, around which the audience sits, allows Hunt to stow away memories, leaving pieces of himself behind to find later while hinting that all situations in which we find ourselves are simply reconfigurations of the same thing. John Lawson’s lighting design, with red bulbs dotted around the audience’s periphery, is subtle enough to go unnoticed but constantly suggests the nature of a scene. Jonathan Moss’ sound, supported by Thom May’s soundscaping, gives us an insight into Charlie’s mind, never silent, and although at times it is a little distracting, it is usually an excellent addition to the text.
But it is in the performances that this production excels. The cast of five play multiple roles, all of which have been meticulously constructed. As most of the female characters, Emma Jane Denly offers many facets of womanhood, all of which verge on caricature but remain believable. Michael Murray in the comic roles provides welcome relief throughout, deftly handling Kennedy’s subtle wit and creating characters which would be annoying enough to drive anyone mad. As the pathologist Sophie, Eleanor Adams is calm, guiding us through the plot carefully and giving a way in for the audience. Richard Wing fills the other roles, and is particularly impressive as Mike, the con-man who gives Charlie his way out, showing a man who, although working against the law, is still perfectly likeable. His speech asking us to enjoy the “Little Things” in life forces us to sit up and listen, and is delivered beautifully.
The best should always be saved for last, and in the central role of Charlie Hunt, Ed Davis is spectacular, grabbing our attention right from the outset and never allowing it to wane. He hurtles through his set monologues with startling intensity and can switch to quiet meditation in an instant, contemplating the smaller details of life with zeal. Indeed at times it feels like this role was written for him.
There are no revolutionary concepts or groundbreaking techniques here, just a simple and effective piece of theatre which puts the story first. An intelligent text is handled with skill but never feels overwhelming, and performances take centre stage. If this production of How to Disappear Completely… doesn’t get into the National Student Drama Festival, there is some gross injustice in the world.