I spent a lot of time before going to see this play attempting to come up with a witty pun: “brief but not hideous”; “hideously brief”; “brief and hideous” were all serious contenders. However, five minutes in, I realised that this clever and nuanced play could not simply be described by a quip on the title. If, that is, it can be described at all.
Many have tried labelling it with the cliched genus of ‘dark comedy’ but, for me, placing these two together seems odd – yes it is ‘dark’ and yes it is a ‘comedy’, but these two things jar together throughout the play. You find yourself laughing one second and the next recoiling in disgust (especially in one memorable toilet attendant scene). But this is not a criticism; it is precisely how these two things conflict with each other that makes the play so interesting.
The play, adapted for the stage by Josh Dolphin and Penny Cartwright, follows short sketches – misleadingly not interviews – of modern hideousness. Yes, these are extreme stories of S&M gone wrong and masturbation mishaps but they also feed into the insecurity we all feel – the fear that we won’t find someone to accept us for us. The room erupts with laughter, but it is an aching laughter.
It’s the BT as I’ve never seen it before, chairs forming a semi-circle around the stage, violating the safe distance between the audience and stage. This is something played upon in a number of the monologues. Alex Newton’s special effects were particularly exciting – the thumping of a heart, the discordant music and shadow play never felt gratuitous, but rather added to the strange dissonant atmosphere of the surreal piece.
The show is produced in collaboration with the Revue and, whilst it stands alone, each ensemble member clearly has a deeply engrained comedic understanding. Particular standouts were James Colenutt with his physical inhabitation of each character’s voice, ticks, and behaviour, and Tom Dowling for his unparalleled comic timing in a particularly hilarious monologue of his ill-fated S&M habits on his “four and a half foot ottoman”. His ability to deadpan deliver the line, “The excitement was intense but not necessarily genital,” deserves a standing ovation in itself. The ensemble as a whole works extremely well together, transforming each scene into a slick and self-contained entity.
The fact that each scene is self-contained is perhaps the only problem since it made for confusing transitions that, although not messy or ill-timed, were slightly disjointed and at times hard to follow. Overall, however, the play was poignant, funny and just the right length.