The Man Upstairs is about a man struggling to distill a modicum of meaning from the banality of everyday life. The play begins with a troubled professorial type going by the name of Arthur luring a bystander to a rooftop to give him a hand at ending it all. Zoe, said bystander, unsurprisingly refuses, and in her attempt to dissuade Arthur from the irrevocable, is drawn into a dialogue with the supposedly intriguing and mercurial Mr. Arthur Hallam. Arthur is the quirky professorial type (though not a professor) whilst Zoe is a naive student.
Over the course of two days, Zoe and the audience are given a number of insights into Arthur’s life, including the facts that he has a wife who he doesn’t think is worth mentioning, that he’s addicted to self-pity and most generally that he’s a bit of a dick. From what I saw in the press preview, writer Tim Kiely has made a valiant effort, yet I feel he ran into trouble writing lines for Mr. Hallam. The problem I think he ran into is that when trying to write about a character who’s manic enough to commit suicide, you inevitably end up trading authenticity for good theatre. As a result, Arthur isn’t the most believable of characters, and unfortunately neither is his relationship with Zoe, who clearly gets something from her time with Arthur that I must have missed. whilst I had problems suspending my disbelief, I did in all fairness only see three scenes, and with a longer exposition I may have been convinced. I felt the play was strongest when Arthur wasn’t involved, with some excellent dialogue between Zoe and Helen, Arthur’s wife. Indeed I was completely convinced by Helen’s wistful reminiscing about her early relationship with Arthur, and actress Caitlin McMillan deserves plaudits.
Vyvyan Almond made a courageous attempt at playing Arthur, bringing to life a particularly funny analysis of ITV’s Loose Women but failed to make me forget the limitations of the character, which once again, given the brief nature of the preview, may well have been an impossible task. Overall I enjoyed The Man Upstairs but am left thinking that writer Timothy Kiely has bitten off ever so slightly more than he can chew. Just slightly though, and slightly is still worth a viewing.