Ballad of A Thin Man

Mon 3rd – Fri 7th March 2014

reviews

Lottie Scaramanga

at 09:31 on 4th Mar 2014

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Ballad of a Thin Man, in which Callum Mitchell makes his one-man show debut, was enthusiastically described in the programme as ‘hilarious, tragic, poetic and uplifting,’ and as such, I arrived with high expectations. However, I’m afraid that this Silly Boys’ production was somewhat oversold.

The performance opens and we see Mitchell at his ‘moment of no return,’ depressed, without love, without hope, and certainly without the youthful ambition to become a private detective that he had when he was 9. Hovering on the boundary between theatre, stand-up comedy, and storytelling, he attempts to come to terms with the loss of his love of Malaysia, along the way telling anecdotes from his childhood, with the help of a projector and his stripy winter pyjamas.

Mitchell’s childhood stories filled the majority of the first half, and, although vaguely endearing, these were long-winded and closer too ‘mildly entertaining’ than ‘hilarious.’ What was really lacking here was content. The stories were limp and unoriginal, and, although convincing the audience of the truthfulness of it all, the total lack of embellishment or excitement begs the question why he felt the need to share them in the first place. As a result, it came across as vaguely self-indulgent. There were amusing moments, such as his anecdote about his childish ambition to be a ‘super sleuth,’ and the news stories that went gratuitously overboard, but these were few and far between.

This was unaided by Mitchell’s lack-lustre delivery. This was perhaps the element I found most disappointing, as without the charisma or expression it so desperately needed to make the stories exciting, the performance seemed rather two-dimensional. The writing displayed the story’s truthfulness enough, and it therefore did not need the Mitchell’s conversational, slightly monotonous tone.

Ballad of a Thin Man certainly has potential, if not in all of its content, but in it’s setting and frame. The projector was well used, and the costume and set, cluttered with lamps and briefcases, invited and encouraged expectations of a quirky yet honest hour. What needs to be clarified is the genre. The element I most struggled with was the apparent indecisiveness of the piece: it reached for many things, but, disappointingly, achieved none. It was not out rightly funny enough to be considered stand up comedy, not expressive enough to be purely theatre, and yet the anecdotes were too plain and poorly delivered for it to be classed as storytelling. Similarly, it also struggled with changes in tone. For example, the most poignant moment towards the end of the play, with the projector, and the music, and the first time Mitchell’s writing had sounded even vaguely poetic, finally reached for a message more sincere than originally suggested. This was promising, however it was destroyed by a crude interjection, which broke the tension in the room and detracted from the seriousness of the scene.

The potential, I believe, lies not in the comedy but in the drama of the piece. It seems that it is this tone that could be maintained, and perhaps, with more character development and stronger, more dynamic delivery, it may be possible that this production could take a different direction.

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