Me and Mike, a new one-man play written by Alexander Hartley and directed by Laura Day, is a joy to watch, as it follows the inner and outer life of a cynical, introspective, self-loathing but strangely likeable young man (played superbly by Will Stevens). Over the course of half an hour a series of confessional monologues – interjected with archival footage of American political debates (his great passion) – reveal to us this man’s peculiar obsession with Peter Mandelson, his distaste for social situations and the ignorance of others, and his rather bitter and sexually embarrassed relationship with the mysterious ‘Mike’.
The script is delightful, full of colour and wit. Hartley interposes moments of great vulnerability with, for example, wry observations about the dismal office world that seems the inevitable next step after graduating. A knowing chuckle ran through the student audience when our protagonist, preparing for hated job interviews, declared with failed conviction: ‘I am interested in being a… [very long pause while he checks] editorial research assistant / online content assistant’. There are other lines of arresting honesty, such as ‘I only cry sometimes because I force it because I want to be the kind of person who cries sometimes’, and moments of great poeticism, when for example he effusively contemplates the deep impression made on him by looking at the stars, the simultaneous wonder and horror.
Stevens traverses this colourful script with energy and sensitivity, particularly in conveying the apparently autistic tendencies of his character. We immediately discern his physical shyness, which noticeably relaxes when he engages in a topic he is comfortable with (i.e., not himself), and there is a sense too that, by the end of the play, this character has grown more comfortable with the audience – which has, after all, been his trusting confidante. One of the most touching moments is when he attempts in vain to dance without inhibition to pumping electronic music, before finally giving up, embarrassed and alone, in his dark room.
It is testament to the thoughtful direction of Laura Day that moments like these have such visual and emotional impact. It is evident that there was great consideration of the audience on three sides of this thrust stage; his speech about the stars, in which he spins on the spot addressing every corner of the room, stirringly portrays the infiniteness of the universe in all directions. The play was visually interesting – dynamic but never overwrought, and the moments of stasis were the most striking. The size of the Burton Taylor Studio lent itself perfectly to the cosy domesticity of the set, and its intimacy as a space reflected that of the play. The sound bites, music, and videos projected onto hanging white sheets at the back of the stage made it very, for want of a better word, ‘atmospheric’, and complemented, without detracting from, the acting.
This is an imaginatively put-together play which is, most importantly, fun to watch. With a run-time of just half an hour, it is well worth taking an evening out this week to go along and see.