Though in a small black box theatre and with only two stools making up the set of Poll Function, Greg Shewring – playing one of the two “west country plonkers” returning to their suburban hometown – does an impressive job of making us believe he is pissing out of a fast moving vehicle. In fact, the mime work, occasional dancing and bursts of physical comedy prove to be the most interesting and amusing parts of a show that all too often devolves into talking heads.
Both Shewring and Jon Pascoe show moments of excellent comedic timing, infectious energy and undeniable charisma. Unfortunately, the two are left stuck on their two stools (the ‘car’ they’re driving around town) for the majority of the play, having a conversation about people and places to which the audience has zero connection. It can be gleaned pretty quickly that these two characters have not accomplished much since leaving school and ageing out of the ever-optimistic teenage bracket. The two cling tightly to the ideas of who they had hoped to be and the adventures they had as kids, while violently trying to stave off the obvious fact that they grew up into exceedingly average (if not annoying) adults. They are confronted with the reality that their dreams and hopes for the future never came to fruition, whether because they were never given the proper tools, encouragement to chase those dreams or because of their own failure to act.
It is an incredibly common ennui these two characters suffer that many a millennial has probably fallen victim to – unless obnoxiously successful – and could be an interesting and relatable topic to explore and pick apart. However, the majority of Poll Function is spent on a trip down memory lane that is nostalgic for no-one except the two fictional characters in the play. I understand those two have entrenched themselves in their past as a buffer against the terrifyingly blasé reality of their present, but I wanted to see what would happen when that buffer was gone. I wanted to see these two finally face what they had become and find out if they can or cannot live with what they discovered. I wanted to see what they would do if they faced the fact that they were dissatisfied with their lives. There is a moment at the end when Pascoe’s character has a breakdown, where he exclaims he’d rather rip off his own skin and sit in a pit than go back to a job he hates – but the exclamation comes too little too late, and with no move to action by either character to change their ways.
Nostalgia for our hometown, for who we were as kids, for friends, first loves, even childhood enemies is a powerful thing. We reminisce about what we wanted to grow up to be and the adults we thought we would become. We find it fascinating, because it’s all about ourselves. Poll Function tries to play on that nostalgia, but ultimately spends too long talking about a town no-one has visited, filled with people no-one knows. It doesn’t build enough empathy for the two main characters – who just remind you of the worst boys you knew at school – for the audience to care about their disappointing trip back home.
Poll Function is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until 28 February. For more information and tickets, see the Pleasance Theatre website.