Paperweight – The Round Theatre – 21/05/09
Theatre is not an art medium I am wholly familiar with having only seen 1 play 2 years ago at The Edinburgh Festival. On that occasion it was a friends’ production and I found it to be a profoundly underwhelming experience. However I decided to put my prejudices aside and give it another chance.
Paperweight is a play devised by The Top of the world theatre company. Top of the world was formed in 2001 by tonight’s 2 performers Tom Frankland and Sebastien Lawson and Tiernan Hanby who all met when they were studying drama at The University of Hull. In 2003 the founding members decided to try different directions and a chance to work with other people. Since 2006 Tom and Sebastian decided to team up again with the addition of director Jamie Wood and it is this new trio who devised Paperweight.
The play is about 2 workers stuck in a mundane and tedious office job. Tom Frankland plays the uptight and childish Howard, whilst Sebastien Lawson plays manic depressive Anthony. The play finds both characters at the end of their tether with their mundane office day job. Anthony enters the play by trudging into the office, slumped in his chair in the dark and looking very tired and miserable. Howard on the other hand breezes in with a broad smile and switches all the lights on indicating on the surface anyway all is well with him in his job and life. He has a happy go lucky demeanour. The play starts off slowly with the characters milling about performing your average office tasks. As the play progresses however, it becomes clear that both characters are increasingly trying to find ways to distract themselves from the overall dull routine of office life. Howard is more explicit in this by setting up childish practical jokes (IE – putting salt into Anthony’s tea, chewing gum on his chair, etc). In this way Howard reminds me as something of a Mr Bean type of character, particularly when he starts sticking little toys on top of his PC monitor. He is like a little boy trapped inside a man’s body. This is especially apparent when he starts talking to his mother on the phone who he asks to stop treating him like a child whilst unintentionally calling her mummy. He is a bag of neuroses and nerves, especially when it comes to women; particularly Natalie the secretary who he has taken a liking to yet has no idea how to approach her for a date. Thus implying that he has little to no experience with the opposite sex. Anthony is a somewhat intense character, moody and sullen and prone to explosions of frustration and rage. This is not helped by the constant phone ringing and only seeks to exacerbate his outbursts further. He is more expressive in his ambivalence towards his job and unlike Howard is not content to just ‘put up with it’. However he does attempt to take part in Howard’s tomfoolery at times despite his disposition, if anything as a way of trying to preserve his sanity.
The play is brilliantly balanced between pathos and comedy. There is the aforementioned physical humour and this is contrasted to brilliant effect with tragedy such as Anthony having to make the difficult decision to put his father in a nursing home as well as Howard trying to convince his mother that he has a girlfriend and friends. The play itself builds the dramatic tension through devices such as the constantly ringing phone and it is in this way that the characters’ behaviour starts to become increasingly erratic and bizarre. All this leads you to wonder who will crack first. This ‘waiting game’ that the play creates reminds me somewhat of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Whilst the conclusion with Anthony stripping off and punching his fist through the computer monitor and pulling out sand, is a subtle nod to the famous ‘beach scene’ from The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin.
This is definitely a play that anyone who has had a job which they’ve grown tired and frustrated with can relate to. I for one am glad that I went against my ‘better judgement’ to go and see this remarkably well-acted and scripted piece of work. I am pleased to add that Top of The World theatre company are currently developing a new show called Free-Time Radical which I will definitely be catching the next time they swing through these parts. For more information on Top of the World productions, you can visit their website at http://topoftheworld.org.uk/.