Writer and performer Matt Franco enters the Cockpit’s spacious playing area carrying a large panel on his back. Bare-chested and sweating, he evokes the image of Christ carrying his cross up to Calvary. For the next hour he delivers a sort of sermon or investigation of what makes a man, and what can bring a man to abandon life.
The root of Franco’s philosophical exploration is the suicide of his nameless character’s father, who left the world at the peak of his happiness, having spent his final days enjoying his wife and family, knowing full well what he was determined to do.
Inspired by the alarming prevalence of male suicide, Alpha Who? is in part a treatise on the contribution that masculinity plays in these acts. Franco’s premise is that he is a being first, a human being second, and only thirdly a man.
This is an abstract show presented episodically in both scripted and physical theatre. The movable screens that form the set are painted with pink and russet shapes that might be representations of internal organs. Occasionally Franco moves behind these and the lighting silhouettes him against the screens.
Franco gives an intensely physical performance, his body stretched and thrown about by the tempest of his thoughts. There are twitches and stutters and spasms, plus an unpredictability that is both absurd and intriguing. Franco has bags of charm, but also projects something wild and dangerous when he appears to be possessed by violent notions. A frequent technique is to take a line of dialogue (for example “Emotions are the fingerprints of the soul”) and repeat it over and over in increasing desperation as Franco’s body seems to be hunted or attacked by an unseen presence.
Director Gail Sixsmith is perfectly attuned to Franco’s vision, and the sound, lighting and music are all impressive, playing their part to ensure every aspect of the show is of a piece. I think the message of the show may be a plea for shared vulnerability, although I wouldn’t swear to it. That’s the deal with abstract work and physical theatre in particular – they tend not to be greatly concerned with narrative lines or clarity. I admired the boldness and finesse of Franco’s performance very much, but I remained emotionally unengaged because there’s nothing identifiable to engage with.
As Alpha Who? concluded with Franco once more in silhouette reaching up as if to pluck an apple from a tree, I felt as if I had spent an hour in the presence of a masterful creation, even if I couldn’t pin a meaning to it.
Written and performed by: Matt Franco
Directed by: Gail Sixsmith
Booking link: https://www.thecockpit.org.uk/show/alpha_who
Booking until: This show has completed its current run