Who Did I Think I Was?

Fri 1st – Sun 24th August 2014

reviews

Bridey Addison-Child

at 03:17 on 8th Aug 2014

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Peter Henderson’s sharp scriptwriting and compelling stage presence combine in this one-man (but two-character) chain of six interwoven monologues to create poignant, intensely watchable theatre.

The intimacy of this production began simply with the set: a tiny, black walled room, in the rafters of the The Counting House. No stage - just a table, on which were sparsely scattered a collection of household items; a telephone; a pillbox; a cigarette case and a mug adorned with an image of a Spitfire. One might be forgiven for finding the first five minutes of the production lacking in promise. Henderson, playing his own Father (‘Mr. Henderson’), huffs, puffs, sneezes, gathers his dressing gown grumpily and says nothing of great interest or inspiration. But this, unquestionably, is the point. Henderson picks up a major theme of his piece early on and hammers it home: the gritty, often banal, reality of life.

As such, the show is a slow-burner, but a gem of one. The first monologue quickly transitions into a second, in which Henderson plays himself (or a version thereof). This cleverly casts his portrayal of his own father in the light of their parent-child relationship whilst also allowing comedy at the expense of Mr. Henderson. In this way Henderson skillfully cements the audience-character bond that is so crucial to monologue performances.

After this, the rest of the monologues follow quickly - each one peeling layers away from the characters, building pace and propelling the audience into the gritty core of the show. Mr. Henderson’s second monologue, detailing his time in the war, has its poignant moments – you can’t help but feel you are listening to your own Granddad telling anecdotes. Yet it is Peter’s central monologue that digs deeper into his family history and, in turn, tackles bigger, more universal issues at the heart of the piece; the complexities of mental health; relationships with family, friends, lovers and, inevitably, bereavement.

Henderson’s delivery is captivating and the script really delivers some gems. This simultaneously tragic, yet somehow vibrant, account of Henderson’s life is what makes the piece so good. The whole production is imbued with, personal, relatable truths, and yet somehow still stubbornly refuses to yield to sentimentality. I can highly recommend this truthful performance, which explores the gritty realities of life.

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Patrick Galbraith

at 10:00 on 8th Aug 2014

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Peter Henderson’s evocative “Who Did I Think I was?” takes the form of six monologues, in which father and son recount family life from their individual perspectives. At the pub afterwards, Henderson declared “It’s 99% true and I don’t really regret any of it”.

The show opens with Henderson playing his own father – a war veteran, a veteran of romantic failure and a man deeply disheartened by his son’s apparent fecklessness. “So many memories” but “why bring up the difficult things?” Mr Henderson asks, but this is a play which does just that. From Peter’s own alcoholism to his mother’s suicide and his father’s incontinence, “Who Did I think I was?“ is a poignant look at the shitty realities of life.

Peter Henderson’s show is characterised by exceptionally revealing and sometimes uncomfortable honesty, such as when Peter concludes that, “girls are funny things: sometimes they let you and sometimes they don’t”. The destructive impact of male sexuality is explored throughout both characters’ monologues, leaving one to consider the difficulty of sustaining a marriage over a life time: “people change” Mr Henderson reasons, depressingly.

In one particularly noteworthy scene, old Mr Henderson sits down to record a tape of his flying days for the Imperial War Museum. After two attempts at recording something suitable for public consumption he disappears off into a catalogue of realities – the affairs, the sex and his dead wife’s Schizophrenia. Henderson's show raises the point that we often deem our real lives to be unsuitable for discussion. Instead, we strive to convey an idealised version of ourselves without all the awful things that make us human. Henderson’s show is a catalogue of such awful things, and is powerfully human because of it.

There is a danger that Peter Henderson’s show could feel self-indulgent. It was, after all, born out of a conversation with a psychologist when Henderson was in rehab, but “Who Did I Think I Was?” feels like so much more than “therapy for one”. The acting is commendable. The despair and confusion of Peter is portrayed with superb conviction, and Mr Henderson’s morning of lusting after Betty, his elderly gardening friend, is a credible tragi-comedy in itself.

There is nothing about Henderson’s family that one could possibly envy, the situation is almost entirely grim. Yet Henderson, perhaps subconsciously, plays the role of his father with subtle fondness. There is no hatred in “Who Did I Think I was?”; instead there is love. I left considering the psychology of my own relationships and dissecting the fascinatingly complex connection between father and son. Perhaps rather than being “therapy for one”, Henderson’s show is therapy for all.

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