Pros: Rapley is well-rounded, has a charming and engaging manner, and is physically strong.
Cons: Three and a half hours of one single performer is a bit much, especially when the material is at times repetitive.
It could have been called the Self Help Trilogy. In one evening performer Ed Rapley takes his audience through a lifetime’s worth of fears and failures, and the shows he wrote to try and overcome them. The evening starts with 10 Ways To Die On Stage, Rapley’s first show, in which he talks about childhood memories and adult unhappiness. The second show, conveniently titled The Middle Bit, deals with depression. Last on the programme is Who Knows Where, in which we get to know Ed’s metaphorical shoulder angel and devil, and also his old French drama teacher.
Rapley is a versatile performer, who tells his stories with an endearing, self-deprecating charm. He easily conjures up a variety of characters, ranging from Garfield’s owner Jon Arbuckle, to a hyper-confident version of himself who rather resembles a maniacal John Cleese with a bin on his head. All three shows have a physical comedy aspect as well, whether that be interpretive dance or four ways to have sex with a chair. While Rapley’s anecdotes are highly personal, they’re engaging and easy to identify with, and overall the theme of struggling with how to live life is touchingly recognisable.
Seeing the three performances in a row gives you a unique insight into the performer’s development. Gradually the shows become more coherent and polished, and the last piece features some great imagery, like a huge bin liner balloon. The downside though, is that it does make for a long evening: three and a half hours including intervals. As you get more familiar with Rapley’s vocabulary as a performer, the jokes become more predictable as well. Repetition is often used as a source of comedy, which proves tricky to get right: how many times can you have sex with a chair before it loses its charm? (In my opinion, four is definitely too much.) Despite this, Rapley is an exciting performer, and if there are any predictions to be made based on this overview of his work, there will be great stuff to come.
The Self Trilogy is part of the 2014 edition of FIRST festival, which is made up entirely of solo performances from a wide variety of artists. The choice to showcase individual performers works well with Tristan Bates Theatre’s snug auditorium, which is perfectly suited to small, intimate performances. The theatre has a cosy bar too, a welcome surprise in the West End. The only downside to this otherwise convenient location is the noise from the street, especially on a busy Saturday night. Nevertheless, Tristan Bates is a welcoming and refreshingly down-to-earth little venue between all the grandiosity of the West End.