From Velvet Trumpet comes James McDermott’s debut piece, Rubber Ring: a one man show about growing up gay in a rural Norfolk village. McDermott writes and performs in this open account of a sixteen-year-old’s attempt to uncover his sexuality while worrying that he doesn’t fancy anyone at all. The dearth of rural LGBT stories in theatre pressed McDermott to stage his own, having experienced feeling “like a ghost” for lack of representation. The clear autobiographical basis for the piece infuses it with a great amount of sincerity and pathos, and a lot of laughs are crammed in to less than an hour.
It is a well-paced narrative, which borrows its structure from the choose-your-own-adventure stories that Jimmy sits in his room and reads. He is determined to make it to London to see Morrissey – his sexually ambiguous and London-centric hero – in concert no matter what the obstacle. At every checkpoint in the tale, as Jimmy resorts to stealing cash from good people, and meeting strangers on Grindr for accommodation, he asks: is this an adventure? and, what does an adventurer do next? Morrissey’s biographical writing and most famous lyrics make their way into this script which, as all successful comedies do, riffs on its ability to bring together slowly all of these many disparate elements.
Transitions between the voices of all the characters McDermott plays lack finesse to begin with but become clearer and more distinct after some warming up, though the various appealing and kindly characters that he meets along the way are developed more out of their idiosyncrasies, rather than the use of voice. This, above all, displays McDermott’s skill as an observational comic. Direction from Siobhan James-Elliott makes some use of movement around the stage to create variation in the storytelling, but this was an area which would have done with further development to match the changing pace of the narrative. The use of music allows Jimmy to cut ahead in his story, and similarly could have been used to bring greater variation and more energy to the monologue which does perhaps rely on repetition too much at times.
What is most enjoyable about this show is that the lewd and excruciating depictions of his teenage sexual experiences are used as moments for his character to progress from. McDermott avoids using this kind of humour merely to surprise or unsettle the audience. Though the sometimes dark world of dating apps is touched upon, the depiction of this world is more enlightening than damaging. Even if the cosy ending and the implication of an unseen romance with an old school bully feel a little stuck-on, the arc of the story remains intact.
This show is engaging and charming enough with the task it sets itself, and McDermott’s style of comedy is one which will appeal to all.
Rubber Ring played at the Pleasance until November 6.
Photo: Nikolai Ribnikov