[2013026] … him

[2013026] … him

Theatre Beating @ The Tuxedo Cat

8:30pm, Mon 18 Feb 2013

… him certainly benefited from word-of-mouth early on, but sadly had a pretty short run; as a result, this performance was sold out. And, quite possibly, over-sold.

Which is a bit of a bugger, really, since the performance space for … him doesn’t lend itself to Packed House Audience Comfort on days like today, which cracked forty degrees. Found upstairs at TuxCat, the space was a small – though thankfully tall – room that had been lined with newspaper; I didn’t think to check the roof, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that had been covered, too. Most significantly, the walls and small windows of the room had been literally papered over… and that had the effect of creating little air pockets. Hot air pockets, trapping the heat in the space.

It was like a sauna in there as the crowd packed in, sitting on boxes and crates along three sides of the room. Everywhere, people were busy fanning themselves; those that didn’t just sat and grumbled, discomfort evident on their faces. Ben – who was teching the show from possibly the hottest spot in the room – apologised in advance for the heat, and tried to keep the crowd in high spirits; that didn’t really seem to work for the woman next to me, who started complaining cattily to her friend about the conditions. “Why can’t they at least have a fan?” she whined.

And then Ben closed the door – the sole entrance to the room – and dropped the lights. Yes, it was oppressively hot, and we soon realised just how significant the meagre airflow through that doorway had been. The next five seconds were clearly the last straw for my neighbour: she stormed across the room and flung the door open (revealing a startled TuxCatter, who waited a moment before softly shutting the door again) and harrumphed back to her seat, loudly proclaiming “it’s stupid that it should be closed.” She looked directly at me, presumably for validation, or possibly because a scowl had crossed my face; “errr… it’s not your show,” I whispered, “so maybe you should leave stuff alone.”

But my quiet half-snarl was cut short by a rustle directly across the room from us; from within (what appeared to be) a pile of newspapers came a hand, a knee, arms, legs, and eventually Barnie Duncan hauled himself out of his newspapery tomb. And the first thing that crossed my mind was “fuck me – it must have been fucking hot in there.”

And the second – admittedly self-righteous – thing that crossed my mind was “that woman better not complain about the heat again.”

From the feel of the room alone, it appears that Barnie is playing a recluse; there’s something about his short, sharp movements, too, that generates the impression that he’s perhaps nursing an obsessive/compulsive disorder of some kind. Suddenly, there’s a squeak – the mail-slot on the door opens up, and Barnie rushes over to it; after a few moments, a folded newspaper is injected into the room, and he pounces on it as the mail-slot squeaks shut.

Barnie starts snipping articles out of the newspaper and reading them aloud; they’re dry pieces, but he injects emotion into the readings, imbuing them with comical overtones. It’s clear that this newspaper delivery is his only connection to the outside world, the lens through which he views the machinations of billions of other people; within the context of this black-and-white environment, the reported stories are ludicrous, but he attempts to create a consistent world view with them. It’s cynical, yes, but there’s a measure of poignancy (and laughter) to be found, too.

More laughs come as he tackles the cryptic crosswords that are scattered upon the walls, with bizarre tangents leading him to feasible answers (although that’s how I thought cryptic crosswords worked, anyway). There’s an element of tenderness as he fashions a pair of newspaper wings with the aid of sticky-tape spanning the width of the room: he appears almost angelic, and there’s a hint of desperation there, of the desire to escape… and the OCD terror I felt (as the mail-slot opened and a torrent of newspapers flooded in) gave me a pretty good idea of what he wanted to escape from.

It should come as no surprise that, despite the oppressive conditions, I found a lot to love in … him. The obsessive elements of Barnie’s character were scarily familiar to me, but the compassion with which the character was treated was genuinely heartwarming. That’s not to say that the piece is straightforward, hell no – it’s cryptic and obtuse and I’m pretty sure all my analysis is absolute bullshit, but I loved it nonetheless.

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