Statistics show that last year the most common reason cited in UK divorce papers was "irreconcilable bathroom habits”. In the same year, a US state approved benefit payment to anyone out of work due to jobs available “being a bit shit really”. And globally, 84% of deaths by public gunfire were caused by the shooter "just wanting to give it a go”.
Fortunately I hadn't packed my handgun.
If these headlines are to be believed (*), it seems we may be living in The Age of the Meta – where we put our only hope of defence against the insane, into the hands of the more insane that we elect. Maybe we are on the cusp of implosion as a society as the blurred scale of normalcy has lead us to deal with the mundane by using the extreme. Maybe now is the time we really are sweating the small stuff. Maybe this is why playwright Rory Mullarkey is back so soon to once more show us the dangers of caring about the wrong things for the wrong time and in the wrong way….
This would explain why not much time has passed since last year’s laboured parable at The National, Saint George and The Dragon , which seemed to be making the point that we ‘Little Englanders’ no longer care about anything anymore but was only memorable for moments of BBC3 sketch show-style silliness and for being a mess that was at least a third too long. This is almost a repeat as Mullarkey has another go at the same conceit here with Pity.
With the same style, 'sketches' that manage to seem both rushed and overblown and an ensemble cast playing multiple roles defined by a single character trait rather than actual character, the only thing he hasn't brought this time is the titular characters of either George or a Dragon. But, unfortunately, neither has he brought across any learnings or improvements from the last outing – sometimes there are benefits to reading the reviews…
The exposition of Community as both cause and effect of society's breakdown – drawn out over generations in Saint George – is here focussed no less on the extreme but all within the confines of “One Day In The Life”, as unemployed Person takes to the Town Square to watch the world go by in this typical English 'Fuck Hole'. It’s an impressive debut stage performance by Paul G Raymond, maintaining a level of concern for only himself with constant “I’m okays” as everything falls apart around him. And the village-y setting allows for some un-Royal Court-like pre-show business as we're led to enter through the stage whilst the brass band plays, partaking of an ice-cream, a pint and a tombola ticket.
Almost immediately Person has met and married Daughter, whose obnoxious Father dies when struck by lightning moments after giving the aforementioned FH moniker to the town. From death to marriage to explosion in moments as the rest of the cast then multi-play every sort of character (trait) you could expect to find in the soap opera representation of a society today. The speed and extremity of events around them gather apace, but with an ennui towards such atrocities that means talk of motive is replaced by general chit chat; a superstore is bombed killing many and the staff battle for hierarchy in the ranks; the PM visits to support with emotion, but is overtaken by doing a song and dance number about choosing cheese or ham as a sandwich filling; the SAS’ arrive and move threateningly, but punctuated by ballet moves, as their choices of accommodation explode around them, causing chintz to drop from the heavens.
By the end of this day, bombs, civil war and plague have all been and gone, and many have died. It’s no spoiler to say they all die at least once, each mugging the event with an upstagey ham moment played out front. It’s a lot of surreal in one day and yet, boy does the 1 hour and 40 minutes seem to drag on. To use the sketch show comparison, this quickly becomes that unnecessary final series watched only by the diehard, when everyone else has got bored with the repetition and moved on.
Many of these ‘sketches’ become just excruciatingly overblown and tedious – the Reds versus Blues murder-dance-marathon stands out – as to make you wonder if Mullarkey is proving his point by forcing us to care disproportionately about the small stuff. If so, a tiny hand clap for this cleverness. Fortunately I hadn't packed my handgun.
Playing the required comic asides with the timings that punch the gag, whilst amply dealing with this madness in a way that feels real, the cast ably manage the buffoonery around them. They make for some proper funny moments that frankly stop the audience from walking out. Well that plus the clever lack of an interval of course…
And there are worse ways to spend 100 minutes this summer that wouldn’t give you the chance to take home that Lucky Bag tombola prize (outside of the Edinburgh Festival, natch). But if Mullarkey really wants to get his point heard, even debated, he needs to cut out the waffle, and keep the comedy on point if he is to keep his audience from losing their patience and their interest. It would be ironic if this theme of a lack of caring only results in that same of lack of caring to what has the promise of being some really great work.
(*They’re not to be believed. Any resemblance to fact is entirely coincidental in these not even googled for reference lies!)