Alex @ Arts Theatre, London

Robert Bathurst

directed by
Phelim McDermott

Alex is the beastly, ego-centric city-banker at the heart of the Daily Telegraph‘s daily comic strip. One of those rare figures capable of stirring simultaneous extremes of revulsion and bitter jealousy, his selfishness is catching up with him at London Arts Theatre. Prepare for some self-satisfied fun.

Technically Alex is a one-man show, though it would be a grave disservice to describe it so. The strip’s creators Charles Peattie and Russell Taylor have provided reels and reels of studied, monochromic animation: all the co-conspirators, insipid colleagues and stubborn enemies Alex could ever hope to turn his nose away from.

Projected onto several screens, these provide a stark contrast with the kaleidoscopic main character, and mirror the alienating effect of his utter self-focus. This is a very stylish production, primed for maximum visual impact.

Readers of the Telegraph will recognise their talisman immediately, as Robert Bathurst assumes an excellent likeness. A lesser performance would see the technology dominate, and there would be nothing sadder than seeing our antihero disappear amongst rambunctious PowerPoint slideshows.

Bathurst refuses to be overawed, but it is difficult to ignore the conflict. The occasional slip-up threatens to disrupt the flow of the narrative, and Bathurst has little choice but to prove himself a master of recovery.

But strangely enough, these rare moments fasten the attention more closely on the talents of the lead, and help explain Alex‘s not inconsiderable success: it is more akin to stand-up than to theatre.

Over and over, it feels as though Bathurst is trying-out new material on us, gauging our response and reacting. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes not, yet if the atmosphere were but a degree more formal proceedings would become boring and linear.

It’s therefore fair to say that director Phelim McDermott and Bathurst have pitched this perfectly, but they leave themselves scant margin for error.

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