The sobering black box of the Burton Taylor was lit up by ‘Malcolm the Miserable’ on Tuesday evening.
Alison Hall’s sarky new script peppers a candid depiction of loneliness into a painfully funny portrayal of the relationship between man and his (new) best friend, Malcolm the cat. Combining comedic escapism with this harsh, and little discussed, reality, you are guaranteed to leave both sated with laughter and pensive.
Entering the studio to find William Ridd-Foxton frolicing on the floor in fully feline form, cat-suit included courtesy of Kat Cooper, is a welcome and hilarity-inducing assault to the mundane; and indeed perhaps more convincing anthropomorphism than the new film of CATS is set to offer. In a confident and determinedly ‘catty’ delivery, whizzing off one-liners with the lick of the paw or a bat of his thickly-lined eyes, Ridd-Foxton’s portrayal of the cultured and indifferent animal was a hit.
Ava Sharpe’s sprawling set design provided an apt sensory stomping ground for the furball-coughing, fussy-eating Malcolm but also cleverly doubled as a representation of the disarray of Vincent’s state of mind. Our heartbroken hero slips between lacking sobriety and sense as he deals with loss and the cold-witted advice of his newfound companion. Gus Brown convincingly depicts the vulnerability of the character who is open even to accepting inspiration and wisdom from a cat.
Vincent’s isolation is made all the more poignant through the use of lighting. As we watch day and night intermingle without a single costume change, his solitude is made starkly clear. Arguably, his loneliness is most apparent in the echoing of his ex-girlfriend’s voice-mail, blasted through the sound system. This is the only other ‘human’ that features in the week of Vincent’s life that we are witness to, successfully rooting our empathy and concern for someone who almost proudly admits ‘you know me, addressing my problems isn’t my forte’. In spite of this pervasive and gloomy undertone, the rapport between man and pet impressively manages to buoy the performance to lightheartedness. From the irreverent exchanges of Malcolm asking both Vincent and the audience to ‘f*** off’, to Vincent’s endearingly pathetic plan to become the new ‘children’s laureate’, Hall draws humour and tenderness to the fore of Vincent’s struggle.
A final image that sticks in the mind is that of the two characters curled asleep on the sofa towards the end of the play, a clear and tenderly felt progression from their jabs taken at the start, ultimately offering a hopeful perspective on the silent killer that is loneliness and a laugh-a-minute in the meantime.