It is no great surprise any more, in these days of over-emotional men, when a play arises that dramatises this in an amusing way. It is also no bad thing. This new work has “contemporary” scribbled all over it, as it taps into a very early 21st century phenomenon of the bloke whose upper lip is decidedly droopy.
At the same time, there is something pleasantly old-fashioned about what amounts to a two-hander where witty dialogue between two men dominates proceedings – something very Beckettian in fact. That, of course, is a lot for new playwright Keir McAllister to live up to, but while this brave attempt may fall short, it remains entertainingly philosophical nonetheless.
The play is set, very simply, on the roof of an unnamed building. Jack Butler is a stand-up comedian who has broken up with his girlfriend and, seeing no reason to go on living, decides he will end it all by throwing himself off. While he is meditating on this, he is joined by another man, Luke Price, intent on doing the same. The play then riffs on themes of life and death until its reasonably surprising conclusion.
There are some very well observed and handled moments between the leads as they goad each other about who is more likely to jump off first. There is even an interesting diversion into the matter of modern social excommunication which comes out of left-field. However, there is a nagging feeling that for a piece which relies on suspense – why are they there and will they jump? – that there is simply not enough tension generated in the script or the direction to make the play work as well as it might.
This is by no means the fault of the excellent Paul Pirie, a stand-up comedian in another life, and David Paisley, a “proper actor” from Casualty and the like. Paisley’s passionate torment as Jack is gripping, and Pirie’s laconic resignation as Luke is very amusing. It is more that their philosophical peregrinations never have you believing that they might actually do it, which leaves you wondering either why they don’t just get on with it, or why you would want to listen to people with no intention of killing themselves waffle on about why it might be the right thing to do. This is not Hamlet, after all.
There is also that slight deflation one feels when one spots the twists long before they happen. This may have had something to do with the blurb on the publicity, and, as I write this, I am conscious of not trying to reveal too much. However, as I have said, there is a very surprising twist concerning Luke, which could really have been exploited a lot more. Exploring real despair as opposed to passing despair is something that does not happen as much as one would like in drama or comedy.
All the same, except for the slightly winsome ending, there is definitely something more to this play than its low-key production and billing on the Fringe map would have you believe. I sought it out because the premise was intriguing and, while it did not live up to my best hopes, I was delighted to have discovered something so promising. But, as each character says in turn, “it’s all about the details”.