Thursday, 30 October 2014
THEATRE - NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND
As often as I go to the theatre, I'd never seen a one-man show before. I remember Cillian Murphy doing one at the National Theatre back in 2012 but unfortunately I missed it as I was overseas at the time. I've always imagined that it must take a really good actor to command the audiences attention all by themselves the entire time though. A few weeks ago I went to see Notes from Underground at the Print Room in Notting Hill. Adapted from Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1864 novel of the same name, by the performer Harry Lloyd himself (Game of Thrones, The Theory of Everything) and directed by Gerald Garutti, it is essentially a monologue by a man who has shut himself off from the rest of the world and buried himself deep 'underground'.
The Print Room has just opened at The Coronet, a gorgeous old building in Notting Hill which used to be a cinema but is currently being renovated into a theatre venue. Notes from Underground is in fact the first production to be held there, and when I ventured into the building before the play I was immediately struck by it, it's still rather decrepit but has an undeniable charm about it all the same. The theatre space is upstairs and very small, with only around 80 seats to fill it. Harry is already in the room when we enter, seated on a worn armchair that's situated on the 'stage' which was in fact a platform made of stacked old books, such a lovely detail. The madness of the 'underground man' is apparent in his mannerisms even before the play starts as Harry engages with the audience as they take their seats, making eye contact and gesturing at vacant spaces, sometimes grinning and nodding and other times fidgeting, mouth contorting into syllables we can't make out. Then the lights dim and the play starts with the 'underground man' hissing, "I am spiteful. I am ill. You are not going to like this." It's confronting straight from the get go, as the man speaks of the thoughts that have been plaguing him, he displays very schizophrenic behaviour, at times manically shouting his point across and at others sitting back smugly to contemplate. The man occasionally delves into his past and we can start to piece together his history and perhaps figure out what turned him into this bitter hermit. It's most disturbing to realise how very true and relatable many of the things the man speaks of are. Notes from Underground definitely pulls to the surface the idea that untamed logic could ultimately lead to insanity.
It's never disclosed what or where this 'underground' is, for all we know it could just be a metaphor for the depths of his mind. What is most clear to me is that this is definitely Harry's finest performance to date. He may have a knack for playing villainous characters already but this role really showcases an interesting complexity to an otherwise repulsive personality. Over the space of 60 minutes he makes the audience recoil in their seats and then quick as lighting we find ourselves disturbingly drawn to sympathise with him once again and vice versa as the vicious cycle continues. By the end I may have found myself feeling quite distressed but most importantly I feel incredibly blessed to have seen this. The play brought out some challenging thoughts of my own and this is usually what I love about theatre, how much it can move you during and how much it can linger afterwards. I'm really interested to discover more of Dostoyevsky's work now, Notes from Underground really put into perspective the danger and destructiveness of the human mind which I've always thought to be such a fascinating irony.
Notes from Underground is at the Print Room in Notting Hill until the 1st of November.
Images 1-3 via Off West End