If you ever thought isolation and addiction were the wrong topics for a comedy then, please, think again. All of Me depicts pain and suffering with high levels of panache, black humour, and good taste. Intriguingly relatable, this production centres on an unemployed man’s inconsequential existence now his days can be summarised as ‘a journey from the bookies to the library. And back again.’
Anything Other Theatre Company promises to ‘put underrepresented voices at the centre of [their] work’ and, indeed, the brown-clad man with a skew-whiff name badge who occupies the stage is one of the world’s anti-heroes.
Struggling with the idea that he has been fired from his travel agency job by his ex-friend, and now-ex-boss, much of the play is an assertion of the protagonist’s prowess in serving the correct biscuits, tea ‘the exact shade of brown’, and his talent in feigning enthusiasm for the haven of philistines, Malaga. Although amusing, these fervent affirmations of what can only be described as mediocrity are genius; highlighting his insecurities and the strong vindication that often accompanies them, these moments are shamefully relatable, giving force to this play’s tragedy.
Alongside his professional tragedy, we are allowed glimpses into the private life of our Average Joe. The play’s name, All of Me, comes from a Jazz song the protagonist’s father used to play on his accordion. In the moments of recounting his father, which pepper the play, his stage-presence becomes one of an oversized adolescent. We see in these moments the boy who always seems to be fighting to emerge from behind the suede, and unkempt hair of the man pretending to be an independent grown-up. Like his job, his father becomes another haunting part of his past that overshadows his life. When describing his feelings of inadequacy in relation to his father, the force of the poetry in this script (written by Martin Brett) pushes through. Nostalgic twangs are meddled with confusion, pain, and love.
Like the text has a tension between humour and tragedy, the paraphernalia that cleverly come to litter the stage have the same unsettling effect. Talking about a New Year’s Eve party, a balloon rises from one of the boxes, lingering there in silent mockery for the rest of the performance. Similarly, stick-figure drawings of colleagues contribute to a primary school scene whilst we hear of the banal tribulations of adult life.
The mastery of this short production is in the central character. Jack Wilkinson provides a character with just enough flare to be intriguing, but not so much that you feel distanced. Blasé in his tale of how he slipped into a bewildering world of addiction and hedonism, the audience feels themselves drawn into his world, yet still detached enough to sympathise with the tragedy. It would take someone heartless not to feel profoundly touched by this show, but also someone passionately cynical not to be amused.
The force of the writing carries All of Me right through to the end, with a powerful ending leaving a bewildered audience to file back into the graffiti-covered Vaults.
All of Me played at the VAULT Festival, Waterloo, till 5 March. For more information about the production, see here.
Photo by The Other Richard