Camden Fringe 2023
There are a lot of plays about toxic masculinity doing the rounds right now, and it is always interesting to see how different writers tackle the same subject. Kal Aise’s approach is to use a stand-up comic and his comeback routine as a framing device. It’s certainly a different angle, and in places Too Soon? definitely presents itself in a way that shows promise. But as things currently stand, it feels like the whole plot needs to be remapped and rewritten.
Stand-up comic Ash (played by Aise) is back, doing his first gig after years away following a rather unfortunate incident at the BAFTAs that derailed his success. But as Ash does his set he starts to have flashbacks, faces from his past appear around him, allowing us to go back in time to find out what led to that career-ending night. What we gradually learn is that his friend and fellow up-and-coming comic, Richie, is toxic – using Ash and others to enhance his own career. And as Richie’s success grows, so do his excesses, with no one willing to speak out about them because doing so could potentially cause risk to their own careers. Yet by not speaking out, a different damage is done to those affected, especially Ash.
It’s a great set up, allowing us to see why people are afraid of raising their voices when there is so much personal hazard involved, but it’s let down by its execution and lack of focus. It almost seems as if they lost faith in the stand-up framing device halfway through and so let it fall away without rewriting the first half.
Whilst its purpose is clear, the framing of the story around Ash’s comeback gig is too messy, and is not helped by Ash thinking he is seeing people from his past in the audience. It muddies the waters, leaving us unsure if he is having a breakdown, and whether this is related to what happened that fateful night at the BAFTAs. This would be perfectly fine were it not for the fact that these hallucinations actually have nothing to do with the main themes of the play, that being toxic friendship and the damage that it creates. Further, they are never really explored, other than as a device to bring in the flashbacks. Everything could be handled in a tidier fashion to give this play a much more solid core.
Aise does the stand-up routines well, and with mic in hand he flows. It’s when the mic is put down and he is required to act alongside others that it goes a little awry. Maybe it’s nerves, maybe it’s just a need for more stage time, but the performance is a little on the stiff side. It’s not helped by some over-acting from Joshua Glenister’s Richie, who seems to be trying too hard to be loud and brash, as his character clearly demands, but then actually delivers his lines as loud and louder. Thankfully the female elements of the cast (Sophie Macaroni and Lauren Rutherford) bring two much more natural performances with them to at least counter this.
Too Soon? does have potential. The presentation of a toxic friendship and the collateral damage it causes has plenty of mileage; it just needs to be better framed, with all those stray ideas currently present cut away. When the play is focusing in on the relationships and how they are affected, things become interesting and it’s here that any rewrite really needs to concentrate.
Written and directed by: Kal Aise
Too Soon? has completed its current run.