A play by Steve Jordan
Dead Static is a really nice piece of small theatre, performed with considerable ability, making the audience laugh at just the right times. It would be unfair to compare to the few examples of humorous science fiction on television, or radio, as it stands on its own right as a neat example of how strong acting, good direction and clever idea can repeatedly give the observer something quite serious to think about while being very funny.
The play was held in The Hen and Chicken Theatre, directly across from Highbury and Islington station. The Hen and Chicken is indeed a public house, and it has high ceilings, red walls, wooden floor and furniture it has something of a homely feel to it. With a decent selection of real ales and beers it is a lovely place to relax in, before the play. The venue has a full roster for the month of December, but this evening I was along to see the science fiction comedy play by Steve Jordan of ManMoth productions ‘Dead Static’.
With the sound of a buzzer, one goes upstairs and finds a smashing theatre space. Six tiers of velvet straight backed comfortable tip chairs, in an ‘end stage layout’, the stage is on the floor level, gives a tidy professional feeling, yet allowing the players an intimate connection to the audience.
The show has already begun as one finds a seat, a dead still body in grey fatigues seemingly sleeping, lies across the stage. The set is simple, a black curtain at the back, two bright orange chars, and I notice a fire exit has a neat airlock sign adorning it.
A rock music intro is followed by piano and then the acting takes off, literally. There are two characters in this play, and the one we have been watching for a while now, Tyler is played by Cliff Chapman.
Chapman seemingly explodes awake in quite an exciting fashion, surprising the audience, he is a roaring bull of a business man, but something untoward has occurred to him, he is at a loss for why he is here, where is here, has he been abducted it makes one wonder and soon we meet the only other person on the ship. Gary played by Adam Joseyln who can barely remember the drunken night he had out, wanders onto stage, drifting carelessly and aimlessly in a good natured way reminiscing certain hilarious events for the audiences pleasure, and both do not know why or where they are there or who each other is, and this is the first of many quandaries for the mismatched pair.
Immediately they both have very strong yet distinctly different presences. The bravado and intensity of Chapman juxtaposed with the feckless apathy of Joselyn is the real success of this play.
We soon learn that they are on board a space ship on a terminal trip, sentenced as it were, by the ‘Syndicate’ who has put them in a disabled vessel and pointed it at the Asteroid belt, destined for destruction and so they have the second quandary, how to escape.
I was impressed with how both Chapman and Joselyn would look at non existent screens or portholes in a number of cases looking directly at the audience, giving steady strong performances despite the moments of hilarity as their chalk and cheese personalities grate against one another like nails on a board. I also was impressed how they played a slight of hand joke where for a moment they allude to ‘being watched’ and looked out into the tiered assemblage. Confident acting here.
The sound effects, voices on radio informing, or otherwise are excellent, they didn’t feel overly done, and gave the right amount of information and in some cases understanding of the characters.
The Science Fiction elements were fine, simple enough, Earth is not as it is now, a destroyed planet, while Mars where Gary is from sounds not altogether great either, the ship they are on, which the character Tyler is familiar with from his business activities, is described in a mildly mocking manner, the steampunkedness of the it earning some mirth.
Yet within this story, there is more. Science Fiction has always been the home of satirical commentary, and I was taken by the fact that Tyler’s company, the Ethical Recycling Company had been very unethical in its recycling, and only ethical at filling their pockets. The morals of Tyler are questionable and he indeed queries them for the audience, while Gary seems oblivious to these difficult issues, which have nothing to do with him.
I got thinking if this was an interesting allusion to Boiler room fraud which is very current, but which in itself is an example of moralistic righteousness. Investors wishing to reap rewards with no concern with how that happens then shout theft as crook brokers apply the same no-concern standards to their activities. Of course not all Boiler room fraud is so straight forward. The waste issue had resonances of a business fraud recently in court in Southwark, again looking at the moral aspect of certain behaviours, and I secretly adored the idea that Jordan was perhaps bringing these current issues to the masses in such an entertaining way.
The space ship, indeed was a small room, with an engine and worse some of the contaminated waste Tyler deals with behind the drapes, so giving us this nicely enclosed space.
Throughout Joselyn plays Gary as a feckless idiot which juxtaposes nicely with the annoyance of the sharp shrewd shark that Chapman performs as Tyler, their realisation that they have been condemned to death is hilarious, both reacting so differently. Joselyn’s facial expressions, especially his wide eyed or distant look were spot on, while the anger and frustration portrayed by Chapman was arrogantly brilliant.
Gary’s pleasure at innuendo and immaturity, leading to further laughs from the audience. There were occasional pop culture and current political references, but I wondered if that was just to ensure some obvious points of reference, as my own personal thoughts focussed on moral dilemma’s that were faced by the men.
The absurd humour, all the time Tyler is trying to focus on solutions, finding the way to avoid their sentence, all the time interrupted by Gary, who pretends to know what is going on, but is just a blithering idiot getting in the way, was excellent.
I think I would have liked some more of the innuendo and perhaps a more overt running joke or two between both men. I felt that there was sufficient time for some more laughs, as the actors seemed well able to bring the story to life creating the situation where one would believe Tyler would strangle Gary, only if he had time and that is my only comment of improvement, such was the pleasure I got from the evenings entertainment.
The performance lasted but an hour, and was timed with their plight and I thought came to quite a nice end. The final quandary that faces both men, is one that is most difficult, reasons why one person is better or more worthy than another, and this again was where the actors did an excellent job of portraying the morales and fears of both characters.
This play not only left me smiling, but also thinking, I had hoped to be ‘entertained’ which I indeed was, but it also managed to do that little bit more, that art can sometimes succeed at, to make the observer question and for that I have to say, it really is quite a splendidly thoughtful and hilarious production.