views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Crabmeat
Tristan Bates Theatre
7th August 2018

★★★☆☆

Publicity photo for Crabmeat

Photography provided by the Camden Fringe

Although you never quite never know what each year's Camden Fringe will bring, the Tristan Bates is always fairly reliable when it comes to high-quality theatre. That never changes. However, what does seem to be new this year is a surprisingly high attention to detail with the programmes prepared by visiting companies. The Crabmeat team, much like Chewboy Productions, have prepared one of the best programmes we've ever seen in the fringe, or in fact ever. Here, the comic strips really set the tone for the show and are great fun to read. But, as this website focuses on theatre rather than comics, I guess we should probably get going with the write-up...

Crabmeat, directed by Adam Charteris, is set in the gender-neutral bathroom of a gay club, which claims to be the last one on earth. It's actually just your standard club though, with various rooms catering for different music styles and people - and there are still other gay clubs to choose from so don't panic! Our protagonist J (Joshua Dean Perry, who is also the writer) starts a conversation with the audience, who are viewed as fellow clubbers hiding in the bathroom. Reference is made to its size and the fact that the bathroom has chairs, which I thought was a nice touch and a way to make the scenario feel that little bit more real. If you are a guy sitting near the front or sides, you might even be lucky enough to get some hand action (shaking hands, that is – what did you think I meant?)

We quickly learn that J is not the most secure of people. Plagued by self-doubt and seemingly not quite rid of that internalised homophobia you pick up as a schoolchild, particularly at Catholic school (everything bad is 'gay'), he is trying to find his place in the world. As he delves into his past and tells us stories about his relationships of all types (family, romantic and sexual, friendships), we discover that he is haunted by a cruel crab with a sharp tongue. I'll be honest here, I'm not entirely sure if the crab is meant to be a metaphor for anxiety and the internal conversations we all have with ourselves, or an actual schizophrenic voice-hearing experience. Perhaps it doesn't matter though. The projected voice of the crab, heard in the context of a dark, damp bathroom late at night, is genuinely quite scary. However, towards the end of the production, we get to meet the crab in the form of a SpongeBob SquarePants style cartoon, which is, err, much less eerie.

The visual appearance of the crab stops things from getting too dark, but I think I would have preferred to stick to the voice in the piece and keep the cartoon for the programme where it feels more appropriate. While the visual is impressive, it feels a bit too bright and playful for the play's content, given that our protagonist is not in cartoon form in this medium. It’s perhaps a bit too lighthearted for an expression of mental health issues too (though as someone who suffers with anxiety, I can attest to the fact that it can produce some humorous situations). Crab aside, however, the visuals are notable, particularly the details of the dark, dank bathroom. It is certainly one of the more visually impressive productions in the fringe (and Stephanie Watson is also due a shout-out here for doing such a good job with the lighting and sound).

Luckily, Perry's acting is equally engaging. You quickly warm to the character despite his self-attested inability to express emotion easily. Perry switches between humour and frustration, anger and sadness with ease. He is strong in both voice and movement and makes good use of the space. My main criticism here is that sometimes it would have been helpful to slow things down a little as I couldn't always catch all the words. This may partially have been the time of day (I'm not the biggest fan of late night starts) but nonetheless, a little reduction of speed would make things easier in places.

Crabmeat is a memorable and visually appealing show which provides an interesting glimpse into life as a young gay man trying to overcome his insecurities and make his way in the world. If you fall into a similar millennial age bracket (gay or not), you'll probably enjoy it. If you are a fair bit older, you may struggle to get a few of the jokes and references, but then again, don't we go to the theatre to learn about someone else’s experience of the world?

Crabmeat opened on 7th August and runs until 11th August 2018 at the Tristan Bates Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)



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