views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Ho Hum
Etcetera Theatre
28th August 2015


Publicity image for Ho Hum

Photography provided by Redirection Theatre Company

In most psychology-based art, the separate parts of a character's mind are split into either different ones, or different scenes from the same characters. The latter is true here, with lighting seeming to take the obvious signposting for this. In Steve Arber's Ho Hum, Andrew McIntosh plays the nameless protagonist in a self-analysing exploration of a somewhat troubled mind. For the most part, we are in his ego which does the thinking and construction of who he wants to be. However his easy, assertive way of holding himself as a confident orator sometimes switches to show his underlying, twitchy, terrified, traumatised true self. Fortunately for us, the first thing this character does is reference Freud's The Ego and the Id, so we know what we are getting right from the get go.

Music plays a very important part with Jamie Pope on an astonishingly atmospheric electric guitar. From the gentle jazz playing as we entered to the screeching wails of distortion heightening the stresses and strains of McIntosh's contorted thoughts, Pope's score and playing would have upstaged McIntosh's performance were he not off to one side and carefully in command of his volume.

The noir scene as it was presented to us was apparently a "hotel balcony at the end of the world", a deceptively complicated metaphor for lost innocence and tragedy. Many one-man plays, like short stories, are reliant on a slow and careful painting of a scene in the past, which somehow culminates in an intense moment of drama. In this case, the past was the bizarre childhood of our nameless protagonist, whose class mates' and teachers' lives and experiences all seemed to revolve around Colin, a strange classmate who, aged 10, appeared to have the symptoms of sexual perversions, Tourette's, narcolepsy, and a dark and mysterious involvement with his younger sister's disappearance. Oh, and a guinea pig.

All this through the memory of a pre-teen turns most of the events into hilarious stories of amazement and fascination. McIntosh paints this picture quite well, although because we are running through his inner monologue we get it in a somewhat convoluted form. The random thoughts that occur to him to interrupt his train of thought also interrupt our interpretation of it, making the audience need to work hard to keep up. Arber has almost added too many "things to make this seem realistic" for it to really be real: McIntosh would have been able to make it all work from his own dynamic way of owning the space and story.

The dramatic conclusion of the play somehow ends up being anti-climactic, leaving me wondering if it had really finished. When the end of the world is advertised as part of the Camden Fringe, we've learned not to expect actual Armageddon, or even particularly showy special effects, but we might have hoped for more than a simple "life goes on". An intriguing hour, but as far as the big finish goes, ho hum indeed.

Ho Hum opened on 26th August and runs until 30th August 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)

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