Perhaps it’s best to admit it from the very start: I absolutely love gig theatre. It’s that incredible meeting point of live music and theatre. When done right it offers an energy you can’t experience with any other theatre form. And perhaps another reason it works is in its grittiness: there is no middle class wishy-washy happy-ever-after going on here – good gig theatre feels as working class as it gets. And theatre needs more of that.
As we filter into the space, we’re greeted by performers Joe Matty and Ruth Page, backed by the beats of Joe Strickland behind his sound desk at the rear of the stage, the only actual staging present. Once actual proceedings begin, we hear two, apparently independent, stories. Matty’s is told backwards, almost a series of flashbacks. And Strickland’s accompanying beats match his frantic storytelling as he breathlessly takes us backwards to how he reached this unfortunate end.
In total contrast, Page’s Fran tells her story chronologically. She takes us more gently through her day, from waking up with her one-night stand, issues at work, including some rather uncomfortable moments with another STI, and picking up the ashes of her mum’s dead dog! And the beats provided match; soft, melodic, calming.
Of course, we know the stories must cross, that as one goes backwards, the other forward, they will somehow overlap. But wow! when they do, when you make that connection in your head it’s a punch you don’t want. It’s a twist that changes everything you may have already decided. It’s what makes this such a moving and incredible piece of theatre.
As they hurtle away from each other again, having briefly met for that one moment in the middle, as Page approaches the end while Matty flashes back to his start, the delivery and musical styles switch with them. Suddenly Page is more urgent, frantic, as her story escalates, while Matty finds peace and calmness in amongst the painful turmoil of his life.
The trio are masters of their craft. Matty and Page’s words come smoothly, crystal clear, whilst Strickland’s accompanying beats never dominate, are never overpowering; it’s as clear as you’d hope from any performance. Even a few mishaps, such as when getting the dog’s ashes from a bag, are taken in their stride, ad-libbed into the performance, making it feel even more personable.
Issues? Yes: why was the venue only one third full? Why did the packed house of the earlier show not take advantage of the double bill discount? It’s a shame, but perhaps they might not appreciate that gig theatre is able to offer an equally, nay, more powerful, piece of emotional storytelling if you take a risk and see it.
24 23 22 is simultaneously heart-breaking and heart-warming. You fall in love with the flawed characters of Brendon and Fran, wishing for a happier conclusion, whilst understanding that it would never work; that this really needs to end as it does. It’s a gritty piece of storytelling and it definitely needs an audience to match its brilliance. If you love gig theatre you must go and see this. If you think you dislike gig theatre then you still need to go. It will change your mind and demonstrate just why this genre can be some of the most exciting theatre around right now.
“I always think you can get anyone into anything if you tell the right story” Matty declares to a stranger as he seeks to be seen and not ignored. It’s a line that perfectly summarises the whole show. Tell a story right and you will have the audience in the palm of your hand. And trust me, Chronic Insanity tell this story right. It really is must-see theatre.
Written by: Doug Deans
Directed and Composed by: Joe Strickalnd
Dramaturgy by: Kathleen O’Dougherty
Sound by: Catherine Hawthorn
Produced by: Chronic Insanity
24, 23, 22 plays at Omnibus Theatre until 21 May. Further information and bookings can be found here.
The show plays nightly at 8:30 following Untitled Sparkly Vampire Play at 7pm (see review here). You can book for both shows for just £20 with the code Maydouble. Further information on the venue website.