Pros: The refined wording and elaborate mental images.
Cons: I didn’t feel any connection with the play.
“Thinking too much is a sickness” said an unnamed man at the beginning of his monologue. Sat at the table centre stage, his hair was oily, his beard unkempt and he had a spiteful air about himself. He was wearing a cheap suit with pink crocs, and his shirt was untucked. To make a cup of tea, he reached down to the kettle on the floor, before picking a couple of tea bags from a jar of dried ones, already used.
Recording a video blog, he was recalling memories from his past existence, mainly mentioning episodes when he took satisfaction in spreading hatred and despising people around him. His rabid tongue was always ready to utter abuse, often with a highly imaginative combination of words.
Despite the refined wording and elaborate construction of mental images, the piece remained stagnant, both in the direction and representation of the character. To dodge the challenges imposed by an L-shaped auditorium, playwright and performer Philip Goodhew, directed his eyes to the empty space, oblivious to the presence of people around him and missing out in the great engagement potential of a straight look towards a small audience. His movement around the stage was limited to a few basic actions and bears little theatrical value, whilst his tone maintained the same irritating pitch throughout.
The physically static performance was revived by Pablo Fernandez Baz’s mutating lighting, which followed the narration and supported it with significant changes of atmosphere. Warm white in the man’s dingy living room, pale blue for a winter scene and electric pink in the brothel transported the audience into the man’s unpleasant stories.
Unable to connect with his monotone rant, I found this self-centred soliloquy tiresome and lacking any relevant message. The disturbing account of an encounter with a prostitute marked the moment I wished the end was nearer. I failed to sympathise with the nonsensical portrayal of a sex worker as a submissive slave, unable to articulate a conversation and desperate to find a saviour to abandon her trade. If this was supposed to be provocative, it didn’t produce the right effect on me.
My first-hand experience of The Ungrateful Biped is a typical case of “it’s not you, it’s me” post-show disappointment, where, after 75 minutes, I felt drowning in a sea of words that kept aimlessly floating in my head. Some of the lines sounded interesting indeed – as demonstrated by the audience’s regular laughter – but were, for me, nonetheless devoid of meaning.
Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Adapted by: Philip Goodhew
Director: Rupert Graves
Producer: Milburn Browning Associates & The White Bear Theatre
Box Office: 0333 012 4963
Booking Link: https://lineupnow.com/event/the-ungrateful-biped
Booking Until: 17 February 2018