This debut play by Laila Bouromane is an accomplished and slick production, and a better tribute than the company Hambre’s other recent show Another Northern Man – also directed by Susan Raasay – to the intricacies of mental health. Andrew Murton and Justin Stahley take centre stage again, but more subtly cast this time; there is yelling, but far less of it, and Murton in particular, as the main character Mike, is allowed to turn in a much more affecting performance as a result.
The story of Mike, an employee in the Accounts team at Heartfelt Cards, and his interaction with his colleagues in the more obnoxious Design department, is unexpected and though it might have benefitted from another few scenes, my feeling that it would is testament to the convincing and entertaining setting and plot that Bouromane has established here. She herself (as the employee Nics) is annoyingly, pleasingly simpering, and indeed all the actors here play characters who are sharply delineated from each other and memorable. Though the White Bear Theatre’s space is limited, the play never feels static or confined, with the actors often sitting in corners of the stage on chairs until they are ‘activated’ to take over the action. Projections, handled with great efficiency by Laurence Easterbrook, are utilised to show Mike’s obsessive dwelling on his own behaviour, and we get a sense of the awful, exaggeratedly positive space of the office by the too-bright lighting.
Given a slightly longer running time, Bouromane would likely have been able to ease off the slightly heavy-handed conversation between the characters on the subject of what crime Mike might commit, given the chance. Despite this, the play gives us a convincing portrait of an unpopular person in an environment, such as work or even school, needled away at by peers and often subject to a condescending, faux-affection. We understand the hope with which Mike is inspired when faced with genuine friendliness by Jamie (Stahley): that this man, clearly so different from himself and not restricted by the same carefulness, is still similar to him in one key way.
On leaving, I had a conversation with another critic who drew attention to the well-developed male characters in comparison to the more minor female characters; I noticed this too, but was more concerned myself with the all-white cast. Just as this critic pointed out that there was no real need for the larger parts to go to men, there was no reason for none of the actors to be BME. While I appreciate that this is a small production, companies such as Hambre Productions must be alert as to which people they are presenting these often important opportunities to, as altogether Absolute Certainty is a subtle and compassionate play which should be seen by many and given due attention.
Absolute Certainty played at The White Bear Theatre until October 7 2017.
Photo: Brittain Photography