Mining tragedy for dramatic worth can be a precarious excavation. On the one hand, despair can reach transcendence on stage, connecting the audience with a poignant sense of universal suffering. On the other, however – such as is the case with one-man show Thief – merely cataloguing misery can become indulgent, off-setting the production’s intended impact.
The play follows Matt Robertson as Sailor, an anti-hero selling himself for sex in the squalid dives of ports and bars. The small, intimate space of Hill Street Solo Theatre works well for the production, with a bare bones set accompanied only by the distant mew of seagulls.
Beginning with an elongated masturbatory section, both literally and figuratively, Sailor begins to recap his personal miseries, going into well-written poetic depth about the rush of sexual hunt and ultimate release. Robertson really is to be lauded here: Sailor certainly isn’t a likeable character but he is most definitely a convincing one that the actor is fully committed to.
Where Thief fails then is through a relentlessly grim narrative that becomes tiresome almost midway through its run time. There is no juxtaposition here, no dramatic movement. Sailor merely falls further and further into a pit, one that feels almost cloying in its often over-the-top nature. Along with him demonstrating his rape in prison, cutting himself on stage, holding a gun in his mouth and recounting his childhood accompaniments with his mother to her ‘clients’, there is also a long-lost friend who returns inevitably with menace. It all becomes too much and feels a tad wasteful of Robertson’s clear range.
Thief clearly has something special in its actor; it’s just a shame that it becomes such a miserable mess at times.
Thief is at Hill Street Solo Theatre (Venue 41) until 24 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.