Sniff is ably directed by Ben Purkiss and moves with great pace, vocally and physically delighting the audience.The play, written by Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson, has real originality, and tackles complex social and personal issues with theatrical skill. All credit to Theatre 503 for having such a creative, thought-provoking piece in their new season.
Fogarty-Graveson also plays the protagonist, Liam. He has a certain sharpness, switching from gangly matey-boy to comic druggy, all wrapped up in something more unsettling. As he unravels before us, we see the complexity of a disappointed small-town life. No mates, no job, no prospects, no hope; Liam could be from any provincial town where careers are difficult to find, especially if you don’t go to university and get stuck in a zero-hours contract, or indeed have no job at all. Options seem few, so why not try to escape however you can?
This play is more than the sum of its parts. It deals with a range of complex and contemporary issues, from identity to addiction and what it feels like to be left behind, emotionally, educationally and even socially. It does this with a real sense of fun, rolling along with quips and jibes – all set against the backdrop of the men’s toilet! This is a splendid visual metaphor for the state of Liam’s life.
In these toilet/dealing headquarters, Liam is interrupted by a young exec, Alex, (played energetically by Felix Grainger); a highly strung young man, desperate for a pee before proposing to his girlfriend, who is arriving imminently. There is much comedy to be had in the tense toilet exchanges, if for no other reason than Alex can’t relieve himself when a random stranger is chatting to him.
Liam cajoles Alex into sharing his stash, suggesting it may relax him for the impending proposal. But as the two strangers unite in a frenetic, forced friendship, we discover that things may not be as random as they seem.
What is apparent is that a life, wherever it is lived, comes with complications, self-doubt and anxieties, and the division between those who have control over their lives and those who do not is paper thin. It seems we all seek to escape; perhaps in the job, or in the plaudits, even in our identity – fair or foul. It could be online addiction, payday loans, drugs, maybe gambling with Bet-time (the internet betting site often visited by Liam and regularly promoted online by Alex), or simply lifestyle aspirations. Fogarty-Graveson covers the lot, dark distractions made beautiful at times.
This is a compelling play. It draws you in to a world that spotlights compulsion and desire. Time-switching of scenes is handled with amusing ease and a panoply of characters serve to give some explanation of the characters of the two men. Memories, expectations and reality fuse. Life and the choices we make all seem a bit of a gamble.
Fogarty-Graveson is a writer of some talent. Along with his sense of theatricality, he can hold an audience with laughter while hitting them over the head with harsh reality; exposing the underbelly of a society that exploits the weak and disenfranchises the many, simultaneously giving them the feeling of inclusion. That’s exactly what Bet-time does, so theirs is not such a random meeting after all! Clever stuff from the author, and with a satisfyingly unexpected ending.
Fogarty-Graveson’s work deserves to be viewed by a wider audience, and the theatre is all the richer for his writing and creative ideas. With the international contacts of Make It Beautiful Theatre Company, I am sure this excellent work will be enjoyed far afield.
Written by: Gabriel Fogarty-Graveson
Directed by: Ben Purkiss
Music by: Tambala
Produced by: Theatre503 and Make It Beautiful Theatre Company
Sniff has completed its current run. Make It Beautiful plan to bring the show back for a longer run, check their website here for future information.