Review: Thom Pain (Based On Nothing)

Tonight I watched a man “try”. Thom Pain’s despairing monologue follows the transition from childhood into adulthood, and tonight I watched a man try to express the pain of that. It was bittersweet to witness.

Writer Will Eno was called “a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation” by the New York Times, and the absurdist influence is immediately apparent – it’s in the meditation of the subtitle (based on nothing). The show tells a story about a boy who was attacked by bees and the woman he loved, but becomes frequently distracted along the way in this rambling monologue. It’s no ordinary story of lost love because it’s too close to the bone to seem like just a story.

The play opens with us literally in the dark as Thom Pain is heard saying “how wonderful to see you all”. Eno’s oxymoronic language is skilful, his black humour tickling for all the wrong reasons. I’ve heard descriptions of Thom Pain (Based On Nothing) as something of an attack on the audience, however I would describe its direct tone as a reality kick, which takes us on a journey to reaffirm just what it means to be alive.

John Light, as Thom, is practically Shakespearean. His command of the role is assured and bleak, despite an absolutely wicked sense of humour. Thom plays with predictable audience reactions, flirting and laughing at them but getting away with it because of his sly charm. One man plays are a challenge, and the fact that Light is able to capture an audience for an hour is a testament to his talent. He says that the audience is welcome to leave – perhaps even better off leaving – but if the level of laughter was anything to go by, then I doubt that’s what anyone was thinking. Flicking through the script I notice several extremely detailed notes on the character delivery, and I’d say that Light delivers this complexity. Veering from cruelty to vicious tears, Light makes this extremely intelligent play extremely watchable.

Simon Evans’s direction of this production is impeccable. The timing and consideration that have gone into the delivery of the script are so precise and yet don’t come across as ‘blocked’ at all. The simplicity of the set and lighting focuses the action, and this lack of noise does make Thom’s monologue feel as if it’s an unspoken duologue with the audience at times. The lighting can have a mind of its own and this lack of control, combined with the meandering of Thom’s thoughts, makes for an unpredictable show. Thom talks about fear as without a definition, but this encapsulates the whole concept of fear and the production; the audience experience lies in the unknown.

I saw a play today that reminded me why I love words. They make us laugh, they communicate love, they construct the world around us. The difference between Beckett and Eno is Eno’s optimism – his words acutely identify both the pain and the beauty in the modern world. It’s impossible to not to find yourself enamoured with this play.

Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) runs at the Print Room until 13 October. For more information and tickets, see the Print Room website.

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