Seen 3 November 2015, Trafalgar Studio 2, London
Written and directed by Paul Andrew Williams
Last post of the year before we travel to London later this week to start off 2016 with a few days of theatre.
Unfortunately, work was insane in the last months and the one long weekend between the business trip that allowed me to see ‘Ticking’ and Christmas was spent theatre-less in Dublin, so this is extremely late but the play still haunts me after almost two months.
I didn’t know a lot about this beforehand. When I was buying the tickets for my November trip, The Commitments were a last minute decision for sentimental reasons hoping it would be fun and I was planning on seeing Mr. Foote’s Other Leg on the other free evening. While I still would have loved to see it (the continuing slightly gleeful tweets from the actors about fainting audience members are quite intriguing), I am very glad my sister ‘steered’ me towards Ticking. She desperately wanted to see this production and since she couldn’t go herself, at least this way she got a first hand report that consisted of me calling her upon leaving the theatre with the words ‘what the hell did you talk me into?!’.
Trafalgar Studio 2 is tiny, with only 98 seats, so everyone is very close to the action. The entire play takes place in a visitor’s cell of an Asian prison, where young Brit Simon (Tom Hughes) is waiting to learn if his American lawyer Richard (David Michaels) can obtain a suspension of his execution, which is planned for midnight. In the meantime, Simon’s parents (Niamh Cusack and Anthony Head) have one hour to say goodbye to their son.
This hour is what the audience get to witness; in this time we learn that Simon has been sentenced to death for murdering a prostitute, but we don’t know if he’s guilty or innocent. There is also no debate or judgement about the death penalty itsef, but something way more complicated: the workings of a family.
The family dynamics were acted extremely well by Hughes, Cusack and Head. Tom Hughes scared an elderly couple right next to his cell bench a couple of times with Simon’s unexpected outbursts. His performance was a tour de force throughout and I can imagine this role to be very emotionally and physically exhausting. Simon is already shaking like a leaf when things start and doesn’t stop; within the next one and a half hours (no intermission), there are not just a lot of lines, but all emotions possible. The play is in turn tragic, funny, touching, heartbreaking and shocking.
And here’s the real beauty of it: this could have been one hell of a tear jerker, milking Simon’s tragic fate for what it’s worth, but every time the majority of the audience was on the brink of outright bawling, we were pulled back from the brink.
I don’t cry when I watch movies or series (with very few exceptions) and I am still waiting for the horror movie that actually manages to scare me because I know it’s not real. Actually, a co-worker recently asked me if anything scared me at all (clearly forgetting the times he had to heroically rescue me from wasps) and my reply was ‘people’. Having said this, Ticking and its family dynamcis were so realistic, my contact lenses didn’t dry out as they often do in theatres. Of course there is also a big difference between watching something on screen or up close, which made it only more real.
The intimate setting in this tiny studio was at the same time working brilliantly for the play and the only negative thing about it because due to the size of Studio 2, not as many people will get to see it as they should.
This production is definitely in my top 3 of this year, Tom Hughes is one to watch, Niamh Cusack broke my heart and as a fan of almost everything Joss Whedon, it was a great joy to see Anthony Head on stage, even though his character should have been tarred and feathered.
While Ticking’s run at Trafalgar Studios has ended, there is a Twitter account to keep informed about it being staged elsewhere if you are interested.
I’m off to give a piece of lamb a rosemary, thyme and garlic massage in preparation for its big debut (and dernière) as New Year’s Eve dinner tomorrow. May you all have fun journey into the New Year!