Pros: A great slow-burning and subtle show that engages in surprising and pertinent ways.
Cons: The pacing caused a lull in concentration at certain points and the noise from the pub below was distracting.
The Tabard Theatre is certainly an impressive space, much larger and more comfortable than most pub theatres. The set itself was a sight to behold; there was so much intricacy to the map shop to the extent that it felt uncanny. Credit must go to the set designer as the set felt not so much like theatre staging but a world-worn canvas of a thousand everyday rituals.
Lonely Planet takes place entirely within the space of the map shop run by Jody (Alex McMorran) and visited sporadically by Carl (Aaron Vodovoz). Jody is the older and more considered character; world-wise and responsible, he is comforted by his unchanging routine. Carl is a chaotic but enthusiastic character, full of fantasies where he lives many different lives and has many different jobs. Together they make a great pair, full of exasperation and hidden tenderness towards each other. As the show progresses day by day, Carl keeps obsessively bringing chairs he has found into the shop much to the chagrin of Jody who eventually can’t move for all of the furniture.
The two actors were superb, everything felt so natural and the dynamic between them really made the show great. If I have a criticism it’s that when Carl left the stage the energy levels dropped too far, which was either because Carl was too energetic or Jody wasn’t enough, either way it felt noticeable enough to draw me out of the story for a moment.
As much as Lonely Planet revolves around the fairly comic endeavours of Jody and Carl, the real story lies elsewhere and is a constant crack in the facade of the characters. There is an unspecified disease killing many of Jody and Carl’s friends. As the chairs pile up it is revealed that each is from the apartment of a friend that has died. The situation and the pressure for Jody to get ‘tested’ cause him to become a recluse dependant on Carl for contact with the outside.
The strength of this show is in the subtle and organic way it tells a very powerful story without telling the audience what to think. Even the briefest look at the context and publicity for the show divulges that Lonely Planet is about the effects HIV had on the gay community in the 1980s but this is not overtly specified in the show. It is very much based on the lives of the characters and the issues come out of this in a very natural way. Lonely Planet feels like a very important show, albeit one that doesn’t shout and jump up and down for attention like so much modern culture.
The only other quibble I have is that being sat at the back of the theatre there was constant noise from the pub below that was quite distracting especially during tender moments. Otherwise go and see Lonely Planet, it’s great (just try to sit nearer the front).
Author: Steven Dietz
Director: Ian Brown
Box Office: 084 4847 2264
Booking Link: http://tabardtheatre.co.uk/whats-on/lonely-planet/
Booking Until: 15 July 2017