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Review: Dead Heavy Fantastic – Everyman

Vicky Anderson enjoys a night out about a night out in this Ev’s final new work

Published on March 21st 2011.


Review: Dead Heavy Fantastic – Everyman

I ONCE rolled over backwards, miscalculating my extraction from a drink-laden picnic table in a nightclub in Hull, taking the whole thing over with me and trapping me underneath; once went to the Krazy House dressed as Janet from the Rocky Horror Show, and was mistaken by all and sundry for Julie Andrews, all night, and was once booted out of a venue in Carlisle when our hilarious idea of a 2am group limbo on the dance-floor ended up in a heap of twitching limbs.

Michelle Butterly…gave just a superb portrayal, with the character’s goodness and sadness etched on her face and in every muscle

We’ve all been there after a few too many. We might not have meant to. And with that in mind, writer Robert Farquhar penned Dead Heavy Fantastic, the last bit of new writing an audience will ever see at the Everyman as we know and love it, before its demolition later this year.

It tells the story of one night in the life of Frank (Alan Stocks), a normal fella, 39, getting back in the saddle after a messy divorce. He’s trying a little internet dating, and so appears Cindy (Samantha Robinson), who quickly turns out to be not as innocent as she seems.

Frank has been set up so jealous ex-boyfriend Vince (Con O’Neill) can catch her in the act – the rest of the play is what happens next. The audience is warned about the language and the drug-taking scenes throughout the performance, and the first 15 minutes of this show, at least, got any hesitance about the former out of the way. The start was laboured and too crude as it sets up the premise; Vince, apparently a gangster or hard man of sorts, lacked the kind of scary edge that would have kicked events off with the spark they arguably needed.

Yet, once the characters are established, Dead Heavy Fantastic swiftly becomes an addictive adventure, as Frank is led out on the most hedonistic, strange and out of control night of his life. It’s all played out against another superb stage set from Splinter and director Matt Wilde, again transforming the Everyman performance space into something exciting and new by incorporating a large projection area showing filmed sequences to move the show along.

When the clubbing element of the play kicks in, it’s reminiscent of Trainspotting, as dance music blares and the foreign surroundings disorientate. Later, my companion reckoned it was more like Scorcese’s After Hours or David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, one of those strange and unpleasant films that see the protagonist ripped out of normality and into a world way out of the comfort zone.

After Vince is forced to apologise to Frank, the pair end up on a night out, taking in real Liverpool nightspots. This isn’t alluded to in the dialogue, but again is projected above in club and takeaway logos. Frank is reticent at first, but is eventually swept away with the curiosity.

There were some absolutely superb performances in this production. Farquhar’s wordy text is often more complex than it would appear, and must be quite difficult to act out. Vince, as mentioned earlier, got off to an understated start, but was soon totally commanding. As the character got ever more intoxicated on drink and drugs, the better O’Neill’s performance became. Stocks proved the perfect Frank, the everyman divorcee with the “nice face”, fighting his own demons while real life constantly underestimated him.

As the night took him from karaoke bar to club, to Vince’s swish One Park West pad, there were plenty of characters to meet along the way. Stephen Fletcher was lots of fun as the overcautious business partner; Helen Carter, as always, shone in a number of smaller comic roles; but it was Michelle Butterly, as Maureen, who kept her head around her when all around were losing theirs. She played a nervous divorcee, keen to go home, out of her depth boozing on Wood Street – and maybe the perfect match for our poor old Frank – and gave just a superb portrayal, with the character’s goodness and sadness etched on her face and in every muscle.

Playwright Farquhar does comedy, that we know, and there were plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this production. The scene at Vince’s flat was old fashioned farce, granted with large quantities of cocaine and loose women; and David Carlyle as accident prone Stevie, ready to get back clubbing once the bleeding stopped, was hilarious.

But Dead Heavy Fantastic has so much to say about society, modern hedonism and the way we live that in the end, maybe it is not so funny.

But how would Frank’s story end? Who is having a good time, and who is the sad loser? Why do people go out and party to excess like they do, in Liverpool or anywhere else? Well the thing is, you never can tell.

The reasons could be as deep, or as meaningless, as anybody wants them to be.

8/10

Dead Heavy Fantastic is on at the Everyman until April 2.

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