Taking inference from Ben Okri’s novel The Famished Road, Leo Kay brings his 2007 show Mr Sole Abode to Shoreditch Town Hall. Constituting a brief insight into the solipsistic and fabricated world of Sole, a socially-secluded eccentric, the play explores familial loss and insanity in an idiosyncratic yet bemusing fashion.
It is said that genius is often accompanied with a certain degree of lunacy. Pythagoras established his own religion on the dictate that beans were inherently evil, Mozart was renowned for his eccentric alcoholism and Lord Byron owned a pet bear, which he paraded around university on a lead in his time at Cambridge. The same is true of Sole, a world-leading architect and chef, who lives in a fridge under a bridge.
The play opens on a strong comedic point when Sole opens his fridge door, entirely naked, only to frantically shut it upon seeing the audience. Ruffling ensues behind the closed fridge doors, Sole throwing on some clothes before clambering out of his deeply claustrophobic living space. There is a nervous energy to this ruffled and bearded man, who proudly introduces us to his various personal effects, brandishing them with a showman-like flourish. Yet, behind this chuckling conundrum of a man lies concealed pain at the loss of his mother and an inability to make sense of the world around him.
There are certainly tender and beautiful moments throughout the play; delivered with poignancy, standing in contrast to the quasi-manic energy that Sole (played by Ried himself) exhibits throughout. One scene in particular where Sole falls asleep, mangled in his fridge, but begins to sleep dance around to a sombre and gorgeous guitar melody has a mesmerising and oneiric quality. Whilst Sole’s graceful motions in this scene are unexplained and feel a little odd, it is a strangely absorbing spectacle. Sole rolls and flips around, eventually lifting a small table and turning it on its head to reveal a small crafted city glued to the bottom. The attention to detail is impressive, fastidiously created as to look not out of place in a Wes Anderson film.
Indeed, the play’s set is an artistic marvel and the production’s centrepiece. Sole’s fridge, complete with its various nooks and crannies, yields numerous surprises, including a retractable chandelier, which Sole uses in a night-time scene. The veritable orchestra of tuned percussion instruments, fashioned from pipes, bowls and various metal prongs is a work of genius and adds to the ingenuity of Sole’s character.
There are numerous things to recommend Mr Sole Abode. It is a tightly wound and creative piece, making brilliant use of sound, music and its delightful set to its advantage. It is, however, a somewhat perplexing watch, leaving many things unexplained and rendering a slightly unfulfilling theatrical experience. Moments of pathos, though effective in isolation, jut out like sore thumbs amidst the nervous mania of Sole’s character, his schizophrenic tendencies becoming a little tiring as the play progresses. The comedy of his character falls disappointingly flat, though Ried’s performance is delivered with a kooky charm.
Mr Sole Abode played at Shoreditch Town Hall. For more information, see the Unfinished Business website.