David Hayman may be the notional star of this production, but he’s outshone by his three co-actors in this captivating, goosebump-inducing, extraordinary show. They are all recent graduates, yet put on polished performances to be proud of. TV writer Bill Gallagher must surely be delighted his play is getting so stunning an airing; it was first performed in 1989.
It’s unfortunate that Hayman doesn’t quite hit the right notes playing a miserable, Rigsby-style landlord who gets a little too close to his tenants for comfort; the play’s success depends on suspension of disbelief. The shenanigans of the three bored housemates are magnificently pulled off by Michael Clarke (Brian), Lorna Heap (Cal) and Lucy Mangan (Holly).
Fuelled by boredom and a desire for adventure, the three loll around on beanbags and fantasise, egging each other on. Cal’s quirky habit of eating carnations and chewing on her slipper as though it’s normal are lovely touches; Brian’s description of his butchery is delivered with a starry-eyed enthusiasm which makes one avert the eyes. Holly is wonderful and funny with her cardigan pulled over her head like a habit.
Quickly, though, their play takes a turn. They seem driven, and lose themselves on a train of thought which runs away. Ideas which have worked in the past – to knock on doors then run away when someone comes – seem boring now, so their conversation moves into stranger, ever more fantastic territory. Stringer is no longer plain annoying, he has become someone who is ripping them off and needs to be shown.
Soon ‘the plan’ is formed: they are the main protagonists and Stringer and his beloved companion, dog Max, are the victims. It’s fascinating to watch Brian, unsure about the plan at first, being not only swept along by it, but becoming the motivator when the girls realise the reality of what they are doing and falter. Where earlier they gave him no space to refuse to join them, now he is shunned: they say they were only joking. Unfortunately, it’s too late, as events have overtaken them.
The plan takes on a momentum of its own towards utterly shocking circumstances. I cannot imagine there was a single person present who did not squirm in their seat watching Stringer attack his roast dinner, but I’m not going to spoil the suspense and say why.
This is a brilliant, well-written expose of how pranks can get out of hand, spawning a gruesome reality from a fantasy gone mad. It’s sinister to watch, knowing that this sort of thing does happen, with harsh, often tragic consequences and sensational headlines as outcomes.