[2013002] Angry Young Man

[2013002] Angry Young Man [FringeTIX]

Mahwaff Theatre Co. @ Holden Street Theatres – The Studio

6:00pm, Wed 13 Feb 2013

Way back in 2006, a little play called Angry Young Man ran away with a whole heap of plaudits from the Adelaide Fringe; it was a great little production, at once poignant and pointed and political and funny; a great bit of writing, wonderfully performed. So I was pretty happy to see it return to Holden Street again: enough time had passed that I’d forgotten the nuances of the production, but the memory of a solidly enjoyable show remained.

And as soon as the play started, with four men sitting in the centre of the stage gently grooving to Smooth Operator, the memories came flooding back: all four are identically dressed in grey suits and maroon ties, and all four take turns playing the central character, Yuri (both with a stuttering, East European-accented in-place delivery, and as a straight narrator). Yuri’s life as a surgeon in his (unnamed) home country is cut short by a force majeure (or, perhaps, an episode of malpractice); seeking to apply his medical skills in England, a poor choice of airports and an opportunistic cabbie leave him penniless and destitute pending an interview with a new hospital. As a result of a misunderstanding in a park, he meets Patrick – and from there he is swept along in a left-wing liberal plot which is derailed by lust, leading to an encounter with skinheads who object to his foreign presence in their country. There’s a hint of revenge, of reflecting the treatment of immigrants to Britain… and a heartfelt, feel good ending.

Beside the two voices of Yuri, each actor also takes on another role: Yuri A doubled as the dim-but-confident Patrick who offers Yuri a lifeline (and conspires to ruin him), the luscious Allison (played with great comic conviction by the smallest of the Yuris, B), and Yuri C dropped into a collection of various right-wing keep-Britain-for-the-British thugs. Much comic relief is delivered by Yuri D, writer Ben Woolf’s original role; mute for most of the performance, his alter characters included a urinating cherub “of small stature”, a set of antlers hanging on the wall, and a brilliantly performed old labrador.

The familiarity of the piece had me thinking that this was the same production that toured here seven years ago; a little lighter in tone, perhaps, but otherwise identical. So I was staggered (after chatting with Yuris A and B after the show) to discover that it’s an entirely new cast – and that this polished production was only a couple of weeks old. The group performance was superb, with a seemingly seasoned understanding – and impeccable timing – between the actors; character transitions are particularly neat, with a physical flourish – a twist, a turn – triggering the need to Spot the Yuri.

Whilst Angry Young Man deals with the dark nature of anti-immigration currents, and all the implied racism that brings with it, the contrasting cartoonish nature of Patrick’s seemingly liberal – but ultimately selfish and conflicted – character makes the performance far more comical than it really should be. And that, in my mind, is a hallmark of great writing – being able to wrap a serious motive deep within a layer of comedy, and still have both register with the audience. Combine Woolf’s wonderful script with some fantastic performances, and Angry Young Man is a winner.

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