Pros: A masterpiece of a play, with a cast and production to match.
Cons: None with the play, but don’t got to Southwark Playhouse expecting their costumer service to enhance your experience.
Little Malcolm and his Struggle against the Eunuchs is celebrating its fiftieth birthday at the Southwark Playhouse. Those fifty years haven’t always been kind to the play, the masterpiece that never quite was by a playwright whose genius was stifled by retroactivity and sparse productivity. If ever there was evidence of a play wrought, though, it’s Little Malcolm, a text that is crammed full of layers and balance. David Halliwell has sweated out a script that’s both self-representative and a howl on behalf of every single audience member who has been quashed by authority and had their freedom short changed. It can transcend generations rolling on that momentum, if it’s done right. A feat that’s not all that easy when your script levels between poetic and aggressive, with the original running for six hours and relying entirely on the audience siding with main character Strawdyke and his self-imposed, self-important revolution.
Quite a bit of pressure for Soggy Arts’ leading man Daniel Easton then, but he seems to take the task unwaveringly in his stride. Having been expelled from art school in Huddersfield, Strawdyke stages a revolution from his bedsit with the offending headmaster as his target and three pals as his followers. The Party of the Dynamic Erection is born and the audience necessarily sold onto it. The alternative is to be a conscientious objector. A mad, Withnailian failure, whose newfound power has gone to his head and inflated his aggression, Easton’s Strawdyke hits exactly the right balance between arrogant and sympathetically vulnerable. There is a fundamental recognisability, the uncomfortable notion that we’ve all been there. We’ve all screwed up, been on the floor with absolutely no idea what to do next. We’ve all felt the overwhelming need to scramble back some control. The trouble is that there are never masses of options as to where to garner that control from. In Strawdyke’s case, erecting scarlet flags branded with a cock and balls onto the freezing cold walls of his flat and convincing his counterparts to hail him is his best option.
In Soggy Arts’ production, Strawdyke’s three followers aren’t one-dimensional pawns in his mission. Laurie Jamieson’s Wick is a wound up coil with his own strength of reasoning and stomach churning need to be seen and heard from his place in society. Not even Barney McElholm’s Irwin is a straightforward wet lettuce. McElholm plays him with a sincere loyalty that runs deeper than that, and even in silence he is never off the mark. Scott Arthur’s aware, if spurious, Nipple is hilarious and is the fourth cog in this superbly and intricately balanced ensemble. The ensemble’s interactions reveal Strawdyke’s inherent loneliness, and the panic that loneliness causes him. His social ineptness is exactly what makes you empathise with him, a nail that director Clive Judd hit solidly on the head. Even as the action reaches its darkest, most harrowing point, it remains impossible not to feel for Strawdyke. In the end, Rochenda Sandall’s flawless performance as Anne, the calm and strong victim, does the most to expose his human flaws.
Little Malcolm and his Struggle against the Eunuchs feels every bit a collective struggle. We are hurtled through close to three hours of watching this claustrophobic clash, but it gallops at such a pace that I can honestly say I’ve seen 45 minute plays that felt longer than this. It’s long enough though, because after a while even your incessant laughter begins to hurt, and by the end the tears will be ready to go.
Author: David Halliwell
Director: Clive Judd
Producer: Soggy Arts and Folie à Deux Productions
Box Office: 020 7407 0234
Booking Link: http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-little/little-malcolm-and-his-struggle-against-the-eunuchs/
Booking Until: 1 August 2015