Adelaide Fringe 2013

Angry Young Man

0 Comments 05 March 2013

‘I wish I could be as classy as that!’ an audience member exclaims as she enters the theatre. The cast of the play – Iddon Jones, Paul Shelford, Gabeen Khan and Andy Peart – sit in a circle, facing outwards. They laugh and chatter to themselves, watching the audience file in. They wear identical grey suits, white shirts, red ties and brown shoes. Their hair is slick and their smiles dazzling.

The play begins.

The actors narrate the story of Yuri, an immigrant, who is caught up in a whirlwind adventure led by native Englishman, Patrick. Remarkably, the story is performed with only four actors and three chairs. Without any set or other props, the actors use mime, accents, and impeccable physicality to bring to life a diverse range of characters. The actors are perfectly synchronised, except where Peart provides laughs by continuing just that little bit too long. Their gestures remind the audience that they are all Yuri, struggling to fit in to a culture unlike his own, trying on different personalities and demeanours.

The stand-out, perhaps, is Iddon Jones’ Allison, the girlfriend of Patrick and Yuri’s seductress. Jones’ exaggerated performance of the only female character is hilarious. He also shares the role of Yuri with Gabeen Khan, who has the lion’s share of Yuri’s lines. Patrick is predominately performed by Paul Shelford, whose blond hair and mastery of a superficial toffee-nosed English demeanour perfectly fits the character.

Poor Andy Peart receives all the worst roles. At the very start of the play, Shelford cuts off an eager Peart, stopping him from contributing to the narrative. He is cast as the old woman in the park and the skinhead in the bar. This injustice becomes apparent to all, however, when the swift and fluent swapping of characters is compromised. Jones, Shelford and Khan stop the play and wait for Peart to reluctantly take the shape of, first, a cherub statue precariously balanced upon a stool, then a Labrador adoringly stroked by its owner, and finally, decorative antlers in a hall. Whilst the other actors take turns at playing Patrick, Yuri, and a myriad of other characters, Peart provides a little comic relief. Though the whole play is laugh-out-loud funny, Peart’s hilarious interludes have nothing to do with the dark subject matter.

The themes of the play are unmistakable. Yuri, an educated and talented surgeon with only a basic grasp of English, immigrates to London, seeking a better life. He has prospects: a job interview at a large hospital. A miscommunication in a park leads him to Patrick – an apparently sympathetic and generous man. From the first introduction, the audience is clued in to his hypocrisy and racist stereotyping. But it can be passed off as simple naivety. The character manages to assume that Yuri is unskilled and stupid, call him a refugee and terrorist, and encourage a skin-head to beat him up. And that’s only the beginning.

The conflict between Patrick and his idea of Yuri culminates with their falling out. Patrick exclaims, ‘All I’ve done . . . The tolerance!’ Yuri is then kidnapped by skinheads, escapes through a rather unlikely sequence of events, and tracks Patrick down to exact his revenge. The play ends happily with Yuri landing a cleaning job at the hospital and Patrick going about his life as before.

The driving plot may be an unbelievable farce, but the ideas that underpin it are serious. Ben Woolf’s script is a work of genius. It balances extreme racism and social injustice with a hilarious four-person ensemble. Although the audience anticipates the explosion of hate hidden behind an act of tolerance, the wait is thoroughly enjoyable.

Angry Young Man runs until March 17 at The Studio, Holden Street Theatres.

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