The Atheist @ Theatre 503, London

cast list
Ben Porter

directed by
Ari Edelson
Augustine Early doesn’t believe in much. He likes a good fuck and will go to dramatic lengths to land a front-page scoop, but that’s about it. Even so, his world is strangely compelling and his story one you want to hear.

Early is an antihero par excellence, an amusing guide through Ronan Noone’s skilfully written world of American tabloid-hackery, sex scandals and trailer parks. His dark-hearted monologue is an occasionally filthy, but more importantly, in places it’s laugh-out-loud funny; the writing is sharp and novelistic, the characters skilfully sketched.

Early’s quest for journalistic gold (and perhaps, just perhaps, a sliver of redemption) sees him encounter a wannabe actress whose tastes in the bedroom tend towards the energetic, a church-going society wife, a rapist and an English newspaper editor. The twitchy and angular Ben Porter handles all of these characters admirably, as well as never failing to convince as the sardonic and amoral Early. It’s a strong, engaging performance though there’s a moment in the second half when it looks like all the accent-hopping, not to mention the sheer weight of the words (the show, complete with interval, runs to just under two hours), might overwhelm him. Fortunately this isn’t the case and he glides on without a further hitch.

The set in Ari Edelson’s production is simple and monochrome, I think put together with the intention of distorting perspective; the occasional burst of jarring music certainly adds to this impression. Minimal props include a table, chair and a bottle of whisky; otherwise it’s just Early on his own.

Listening to the rather episodic and rambling narrative, I found myself thinking of DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little. The writing presses a lot of buttons: sex, religion, celebrity, without really saying anything new, however what it does say, it says in an entertaining fashion even if at times it seems to be trying just a little too hard to be edgy. It works better in its more considered moments, when a bird crashes into a windscreen of his car, or in Early’s burgeoning friendship with a recently widowed virgin. But though it, at times, seems confused in its intentions, the writing is always confident and speaks of considerable talent.

In its closing moments the production embraces the theatrical potential of the story (up until then it been rather static, feeling at times like a short story being read aloud rather than a play) and it would be interesting to see what Noone could achieve if he were to blend his literary gifts with a more theatrical sensibility.

This is the first production at Theatre 503 under the new artistic directorship team of Tim Roseman and Paul Robinson, and it’s a winning choice ambitious, entertaining, and ideally suited to the space.

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