Dave! is entirely incomparable with anything else I’ve seen this year. The storyline follows Dave, a quavering, uncertain individual, who is utterly overwhelmed by the things going on around him: his parents’ divorce, his mother’s new life, his abusive father and his desperate colleague. Throughout the production we see him deteriorate into a quivering frenzy of anxiousness as he struggles to deal with these occurrences as well as confusions about his sexuality. It is an electric, smothering, aggressive and uncomfortable half-hour.
Such an extreme theatrical experience is difficult to enjoy, but it is possible to appreciate what they were aiming to achieve.
The short play, performed by the University of Manchester Drama Society, begins with a series of disjointed scenes in which we are introduced to the characters. From here, it quickly gathers pace. Dave seems utterly unable to cope, sweating and shaking on the floor. He is repeatedly beaten up by his alter ego. This, as a result of the actor’s overly vicious stance and expression, is hard to watch. There is singing and poetry too, but the songs, included presumably to highlight the dark comedy of it all, were toneless and crude. There are some neat bits of the play, such as when the positions of the actors playing his parents at each side of the stage demonstrate Dave’s psychological imprisonment.
After a while I began to find Dave’s wordlessness, the overwhelming energy, and the high-octane performances a little wearing. Though there were moments that could be construed as amusing, these comedic elements were smothered by endless beatings, relentless sarcasm and desperation. Having said this, it does not seem that Manchester Drama Society ever intended for this performance to be enjoyable.
The message seems clear: that modern life is too fast-paced for anyone to deal with its jumble of stresses and demands, especially when not given any time to respond. Such an extreme theatrical experience is difficult to enjoy, but it is possible to appreciate what they were aiming to achieve. Dave! is an impressive, overwhelming and relentless production: just arrive with an open mind.