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Defrag_, Camden People’s Theatre

Written and performed by Tom Lyall
Directed by Wendy Hubbard

Pros: A tremendous one man science fiction epic the likes of which you will have never seen on stage. Brilliantly performed by Tom Lyall.

Cons: The auditorium at the CPT is a veritable ice-box. I had to leave my gloves on for the whole show. Luckily, I was swept up in the play pretty quickly and forgot all about it.

Our Verdict: This is a triumph both in scriptwriting and performance – unique and unforgettable. Not to be missed!

Courtesy of Tom Lyall

Defrag_ opens with a sparse set – a lectern holding a speech, a round table with drinking water and a number of brown boxes laid out in grid form at the back of the stage. Our actor Tom Lyall begins the show by giving us a lecture on his decision to hand his mind over to a computer programme after a serious head injury has left his thoughts and memories in a chaotic state. Lyall’s speech is sharply witty, thought-provoking and beautifully delivered. He also creates sufficient intrigue to keep his audience guessing as to who he really is and where this story is leading us. His monologue is brimming with arresting thoughts on entropy, computers, maths, wordplay and associative language. These ideas are laced with delicately poetic, philosophical observations on life, love and the complex human mind. I feel this production is far too multi-layered to give a blanket overview on theme and as it is regularly steeped in complex metaphor, the experience is probably slightly different for each individual.

Lyall’s performance is truly dynamic. He creates a character who is infinitely complex at first but who slowly unravels until he is stripped bare, silent and simply present in the moment. Lyall also manages to imbue his performances with effective nuances. For example, he takes minor annoyances (like an ambulance siren outside the theatre) and turns such things into seemingly planned parts of his show (a simple but thrillingly clever way of dealing with these common issues). Lyall’s performance is assisted by inspired direction from Wendy Hubbard and expert lighting design by Cis O’Boyle.

The show is divided into two sections and the second half is where the real fun begins for science fiction fans. Any attempt on my behalf to go into further details would lead into a veritable minefield of spoilers. Therefore, I would just urge you to see it with my promise that the second half is even more fascinating, challenging, hilarious and heart-felt than the first. Tom Lyall’s script is jam-packed with concepts which will have you ruminating and philosophizing well into the evening as Defrag_ bravely explores complex cognitive issues and presents them in a delightfully entertaining way. This is a story which explores the human condition with much more intellectual bite than you’re likely to find on stage elsewhere.

Situated at the very top of Tottenham Court Road, Camden People’ s Theatre is a terrific fringe venue with everything you could wish for from friendly staff and a good atmosphere to gorgeous décor and interesting art pieces. My one forgivable quibble is that it is absolutely freezing in the auditorium. I had to keep my coat, scarf and gloves on throughout the entirety of this performance – which would have been very annoying if I hadn’t been swiftly distracted by the brilliance of the show. As we all know, fringe theatre tends to be seriously underfunded so I have no doubt that the lovely staff at CPT would happily crank up the central heating if they could afford to do so. Therefore I reckon we should all wrap up tight in our warmest winter woolies and head on down to support this terrific little venue, especially if it continues to produce shows as tremendous as this one.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Defrag_ runs at the Camden People’s Theatre until 15th December 2012.
Box Office: 08444 77 1000 or book online at

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