Richard Fry @ Higher Ground – Art Base
9:30pm, Tue 9 Mar 2010
After rushing from This Is A Play to Weights to Scaramouche Jones, it was great to have a couple of minutes’ respite before the next show; a few birthday hugs and handshakes from some of the Higher Ground regulars, a nice glass of red, and it’s all smiles and happiness. I’m feeling – unsurprisingly – a little weary, a little spent, so I get an espresso shot from the bar; as soon as it was in my hand, the ticket call came for Bully. Backpack on my shoulder, glass of red in one hand, coffee in the other, Irene and I descend to the Art Base, giggling. We take our seats in the front row, a bit of juggled drink-holding allows me to drop the backpack; still giggling, with a drink in each hand, I look forward to sipping from each in the next few minutes.
The house lights drop; the stage lights come up. And we’re sitting there staring at Richard Fry: stocky, bearded, but – most hauntingly – prone and helpless. He’s weeping uncontrollably; the lights catch the tears as they roll down his cheek. And it’s dead silent at first – we dare not breathe – but soon the sound of strangulated sobbing seeps out. It’s painful to watch, but impossible to look away…
I can’t remember the transition, but Richard Fry somehow gets from that astonishing start into the bulk of his monologue. And it’s about twenty minutes in, amidst the gruff rhymes that form Fry’s delivery, that I remember the two drinks in my hand… because his (character’s) story of growing up in an abusive household, discovering his sexuality, and the violence (both social and domestic) that he encountered as a gay man was utterly engrossing.
Fry is absolutely fantastic: there’s something very rough and raw about his delivery, and it works perfectly with the irregular and occasionally awkward rhymes of his dialogue. His physical presence onstage is wonderful, too: one moment he can look timid and vulnerable, a doormat in his abusive relationship; the next, his rage is barely restrained, as the blunt responses befitting his upbringing clamber for release. The performance comes full circle, of course, leading us back to the reason for the tears, and as we madly applaud him at the end of the show (to the somewhat conflicted strains of Bucks Fizz), there was no denying the brutal power and simple honesty of the performance.
Irene and I managed to have a drink and chat with Fry later that evening; a nicer, more unassuming chap you’ll never meet. Of course, I had to ask if Bully was auto-biographical in any way; he laughed, pointed out he’d never been in prison, and slyly picked our brains for a critique of his performance. And I love meeting people like that; these gentle giants of theatre are fantastic to talk to, and I want nothing more for them to succeed at their craft.
Because when it comes off, as it did with Bully, the results are astounding.