“D’you hear about Todd?” An innocuous question shouted over a bar inspires the better part of an hour’s worth of reflection on death in the modern age in this curious and charming blend of spoken word and music from the Free Fringe.
The eponymous Todd is the man who has died, our gruff narrator Jonny Hartley informs us to the accompaniment of Will Pickvance’s piano. What follows is Hartley struggling to come to terms with how he should react to the death of a man he barely knew. Hartley tries to express his feelings in several different ways from a long drawn out Shakespearean analogy to boiling life down to a series of numbers and also to commissioning Pickvance to write a “requiem” for Todd. The latter sequence is a particular highlight, and its bleakly funny, gentle cynicism encapsulates the tone of the show.
Hartley is a man with a strong command of language and a talent for delivery, both of which he uses to great effect to hold the floor in the below-ground dark of Fingers Piano Bar. His engaging baritone suits his dry sense of humour, which comes across well even though he never smiles. It seems as though he wants to come across as more cynical than he really is; despite his macabre jokes and weary attitude he seems to be genuinely affected by his inability to articulate how he should be feeling about this death. His partner Pickvance’s spoken delivery is not always as strong or as credible, but his excellent singing voice and exceptional musicianship do much to compensate.
D’You Hear About Todd is a difficult prospect. The show doesn’t offer a simple answer or neat resolution because, as Hartley observes, life and death don’t either. Death is random, uncaring and, by its very nature, meaningless. There are no great understandings or moments of divine revelation, but when all it’ll cost to hear about Todd is forty-five minutes of your time, it is difficult not to recommend listening.