views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Me Plays
The Old Red Lion Theatre
3rd September 2014

★★★☆☆

Andrew Maddock in Junkie

Photography © Hannah Ellis Photography

According to the publicity, Andrew Maddock's The Me Plays are "A double bill of monologues. About Me. For You." Well, they certainly are for me - for my generation at least. The references to Gladiators, Adidas poppers, the Spice Girls - oh, all those were all very cool at one point. I know, I know. Makes you ashamed to be late 20s/early 30s. But Maddock packs a certain amount of honesty into these semi-autobiographical works, so it's only fair we 'fess up too and admit we lived through those same cringe-worthy times.

Junkie and Hi Life, I Win tackle big themes like fear of abandonment and fear of death. Maddock has not only penned both pieces, but he stars in them as Me, a sort of everyman character. He's warm and likeable, but the writing style does take some getting used to. It's poetic with plenty of perfect rhyme - sometimes serendipitously perfect, at others square-peg-in-a-round-hole so. Me goes around the houses when chatting away, his anecdotal style almost at odds with the obviously planned, melodious rhythm. This has the unusual effect of the dialogue feeling simultaneously both naturalistic and unnatural.

The first play, Junkie, probably resonated with me the most. Who hasn't arranged a hot date and then agonised over what the hell to wear? Overanalysed text messages for some hidden meaning? Panicked and wanted to run away in a desperate attempt at self-preservation? Me is clearly lonely on some level, he wouldn't put himself through all that otherwise. However, he's unable to follow through, so wired up to "this digital age" that he can't bring himself to reach out to a real human. It's a little damning of our modern times, but there's a lot of sobering truth to it. Sometimes the world does feel too big for one person, and it's disabling.

Hi Life, I Win has a slightly different pace. Again, there's more comedy and the narrative does jump around, but it's a not-quite-deathbed confessional, which takes us through Me's childhood. There's more structure, and a lot more guilt as Me looks back on his connections with friends and family. Director Ryan Bradley makes this second play feel more emotional, and as with the first, Maddock frequently locks eyes with a member of the audience and for one long moment, makes his story seem like it's just for that person.

Andrew Maddock in Hi Life, I Win

Photography © Hannah Ellis Photography

I'm hesitant to label Me an underdog, but there's a lot of charm to the self-deprecation and eloquent lines. I suppose the problem was although I enjoyed spending time with him, I just wasn't that invested in either piece. It's difficult to pinpoint why, perhaps there were too many laughs of recognition for my tastes - the writing is undeniably clever, but some of the humour is a bit easy.

With that said, it's been two years since I first saw Maddock's work, and despite his Olympi(lads) just one short play as part of an evening of several, I recognised his style straight away. Given how many hundreds of productions I've seen in the interim, it's impressive that his writing is that distinctive. Maddock is probably a bit Marmitey, but that's no bad thing on this circuit. He certainly leaves a lasting impression and I'm excited to see what he writes next. There's a huge amount of promise in The Me Plays.

The set by Charlie Marie Austin is gloriously funky - particularly coming into its own in the first half - with the venue stripped back to its usual black box state and then covered in brightly coloured lines. They all interlock in a uniform and yet pleasingly confusing way, echoing the connections that both captivate and overwhelm Me. The design is modern, it's fresh and it helps reinforce that this a brand new piece of writing - if the references to Tinder didn't make it clear enough for you.

Maddock's acting is solid and his writing incredibly clever. As much as I recognised elements of each scenario, on a personal level, this didn't quite draw me in. But go on, take on Me, I can see how this could capture other children of the 80s and 90s. A thoroughly intelligent piece of new writing which deserves to do well.

The Me Plays opened on 2nd September and runs until 20th September 2014 at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Angel (Northern)



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