Alison Hall’s Malcolm the Miserable is a witty, heartfelt new play, which follows the recently single Vincent and his ex’s cat Malcolm as they both try to recover from a sudden breakup. Hall has a lot of fun with the premise, mixing cat puns, Malcolm’s hilariously dispassionate descriptions of his own behaviour ‘now I’m going to scratch the shit out of a piece of furniture and there’s nothing you can do to stop me’, and a particularly emotional rendition of ‘Memory’ from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats to great comic effect.
In the title role, William Ridd Foxton is a delight. He developed an instant rapport with the audience through cheeky fourth wall breaks and moments of self-conscious theatricality (‘oh great, you’re monologuing’). Foxton’s timing was excellent, allowing him to make the most of the script’s sardonic humour, and to play to the absurdity of a cat delivering swift repartee and cutting put-downs. This absurdity was enhanced by Foxton’smovement and physicality, which combined catlike nimbleness with a distinctly human impudence, and allowed for moments of effective physical comedy as he coughed up a furball, or clung onto Vincent as he drunk-called his ex.
Foxton’s performance is nicely complemented by Gus Brown as Malcolm’s long-suffering, newly adopted owner. Brown brought a sweetness and sincerity to the role, winning the audience’s sympathy with his naive optimism, his earnest but hilarious struggles with writer’s block, and his rapid switches from shouting at Malcolm to sobbing hopelessly in the space of three seconds. Brown’s gentler, more understated approach to his character provided an effective contrast to Foxton’s energy, and the two performers worked well together; the gradual, grudging development of their affection for one another was believable and touching.
At times, the pace of the dialogue dragged a little, and some slow lighting transitions disrupted the flow of the play, leaving long periods of inaction onstage. However, this can be put down to first night difficulties, and the show as a whole was engaging and enjoyable. It is a testament to Hall’s writing, and to the performances of both actors, that they are able to command the audience’s attention – and their laughter – for so long.