"I don't think the writers work as hard as they used to, because the writing isn't as good" John Cleese reportedly told an interviewer recently. He was talking about television, not the state of stage in the southwest.
It's not often a play makes you laugh till your ribs ache then cry till your face hurts so that after the final curtain you stumble out silenced, feeling like you've been through an emotional tumble-dryer. 'You' of course means me, and the play is Ray Collins Dies on Stage at the Alma Tavern. Written by Mark Breckon and featuring the stunning talents of Oliver Millingham, Kirsty Cox, and Neil Jennings, directed with devastating insight and astounding pace by Chris Loveless - superlatives are essential to convey how moving and extraordinary this piece of theatre is. Picture a writer who's painfully and chronically allergic to every scrap of the fabric of his own life - the clothes he wears, room he lives in, computer he tries to work on. On the literal brink of suicide he's saved by love but dies anyway, killed not by despair but by clumsy experimentation from the medical profession... doesn't sound like a laugh a minute, does it? Believe me, it was. Mark knows the scenario well, he lived it - and unlike Ray Collins survived it. His account of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and its treatment is hilarious and tragic and very, very, moving. Huge credit to Stepping Out Theatre Company for bringing this brave & brilliant play to Bristol: you can read audience responses here, and go if you can, it's on till 13th June.
At the Ustinov in Bath, there's The Adventures of Wound Man & Shirley - 'the best show I've seen, it's awesome' one barman is telling the other as I arrive.
Like Ray Collins, Shirley Gadanken is a social misfit on a macabre journey of pain and loneliness. And what do you need most, when you're a nerdy boy with knobbly knees, a sick brother, and a hopeless crush on a cross-country runner?
Why, a superhero of course, to make you his sidekick. Enter, clanking, Wound Man, looking "like Bill Murray crossed with a swiss army knife... weapons sticking out like cocktail sticks through cheese&pineapple at a party", whose special power is to calm those in extreme grief and pain by simply looking like they feel. Wound Man shows Shirley how to touch those he loves and can't because they're either dying (his brother) or despise him as a bender (his beloved). Lyrical and tender, gently humorous rather than hilarious, Chris Goode's highly original rites-of-passage story is performed by the writer as an intimate third person monologue, and deserves the barman's accolade.
John Cleese says the people who run TV these days are fearful of new, imaginative, ideas. John, you should get out more.