Ever have one of those Saturdays where you simply can’t be bothered? Hanging out with your mates, playing footy, none of it has any inspiration for you? You just want to mope around, watch the tellie, do some washing and pretty much that’s it.
That’s the predicament we find Liam (Liam Maguire) in when he tells his mate “Solley” (Adam Sollis) to bugger off in the opening minutes. Yes, the play allows for the actors to retain their own names, one of many quirks. For you see, Liam is about to spend the day preoccupied with three women and a surly cat. Not in any conventional sense mind you, oh no.
Liam brings images from his television set to life; recalls memories about his parents, notably his mother (Alexis Lane); reminisces about his first love, Harriet (Harriet Davies); and pines for his most recent girlfriend, Kirsty (Kirsty Marillier) who he inexplicably broke it off with even though he loves her. Then there is the cat (Sollis again) who in typical feline fashion treats Liam as an annoying pet. He is egged on by his hyperactive alter-ego, Alfie (Alexander Frank) while Ben Kindon plays his father.
In essence this is a series of set piece scenes that vary from the realistic to the surreal, held together by a very engaging central performance from Maguire. He is blokey, charming, mischievous, excitable but also introspective when required. It was billed as “in yer face” theatre and, sure, there is plentiful use of the C-bomb, simulated sex, partial nudity, and other antics but I didn’t find any of this confronting as it’s wrapped in an imaginary world with no real consequences. Not even the television inspired murder re-enacted in Liam’s mind with him as the victim.
It is laugh out loud funny in moments – many moments actually – and works better in its frenetic ‘dreamscape’ than in any realism depicted such as Liam making breakfast or Liam getting dressed which is all very languid. There is some attempt at poignancy in quieter scenes and even a little pontificating about love but this felt slight when the real reason he ended the relationship with Kirsty is revealed.
The acting is good and the cast certainly throw themselves at this full tilt. Sollis has scene stealing moments not only as the cat but as a telemarketer with cerebral palsy (the humour is politically incorrect and deliciously black at times); Lane gives a spunky performance as the Mother; and Frank literally jumps out of his skin in a very physical performance. Davies unveils a superb singing voice in a key sequence and is fearless in one of the raunchiest scenes involving a toilet seat and, well, two other people. Marillier is an enticing Kirsty who Liam impatiently waits to call while Kindon has the least flashy role as the father.
Highlights are a show stopping musical number where the lyrics could most politely be described as ‘colourful’; the whole telemarketing sequence which starts off as a verbal exercise where Alfie cajoles Liam into abusing the caller only for Liam’s mother to announce the telemarketer has arrived in person… in a wheelchair with some lovely sight gags and appropriate humiliation; the surprising appearance of the mother in an unexpected place as Liam does his laundry; Sollis’ disdainful and surly cat; and there is a lovely use of a working shower of sorts as Liam tries to understand his emotions towards Kirsty. One of the stagehands (who are used as de facto characters) even has a conversation with Alfie about her job which is all very clever and self-aware.
I can certainly say I laughed throughout but I found the play as a whole uneven and occasionally perplexing (carrots anyone?). Ironically it works best when it’s not depicting realism at all. It’s the inventiveness and sheer craziness of Liam’s interior world that is fascinating. If the point is we can find the fantastical even in the most mundane of things then it hits its mark but that didn’t seem to gel with the conclusion to the relationship drama at the heart of this.
Written by Scottish playwright Anthony Neilson and Directed by Anthony Skuse, Realism is on at The Roundhouse Theatre until 19 June.