Richard Parker

What I remember most strongly from Richard Parker, a 2011 dark comedy from playwright Owen Thomas, was the heat. The venue was a sauna, burning from the mass of people trapped inside. In other words: perfect for the tale of two castaways in the Atlantic.

Bits were brilliant, particularly when they began calling back to earlier phrases and ideas.

The hook is that these two castaways are both called Richard Parker. Their shared name (that they also share with a cabin boy, killed for food by stranded sailors) ties them into a shared destiny, a fate by way of coincidence. Coincidence serves as the central theme of the play and inspires the best writing in it. Ieuan Perkins (as, well, Richard Parker) occasionally monologues on the subject. He swiftly lists examples, leading from one to another and forming a verbal web of coincidence. It’s well researched, too, drawing on famous conspiracy theories and historical oddities.

I wasn’t so impressed with the comedic elements, though. I’d call it a “drunk comedy”: late at night, in a venue with a bar, with jokes clever enough to entertain, without being too clever to go over the audience’s beer-addled heads. It’s not that I never laughed. Bits were brilliant, particularly when they began calling back to earlier phrases and ideas, and Perkins’ comic timing was respectable. But it didn’t do much to excite or surprise. When the characters split the lifeboat down the center and ended an argument by repeating the word, “fine” ad nauseam, I began to wonder why I wasn’t instead watching any roommate sitcom.

What the production did have was dramatic merit. Jake Boswall (also as Richard Parker) delivered a particularly subtle performance, only lost when the script got too demanding. There were moments of real tension, big themes considered without preaching, and (mostly) intriguing trivia.

So, go out one evening. Have a drink. Have a second one. Put a third one in one of the venue-friendly plastic cups, and then consider Richard Parker. Just don’t expect brilliant where you’ll only find amusing.

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The Blurb

Two men. One name. When two unfamiliar men are thrown together on the deck of a ship, Richard Parker is unaware that their coincidental encounter is part of a long chain linking the two individuals together. A brilliantly dark and witty exploration of the intersection between fate and coincidence. 'Oxford drama at its best; a funny, haunting, and supremely well-executed play – held together by a pair of mesmerising performances' (Oxford Student).