It is either apt or ironic that a show whose set recreates a building site feels a little messy. A one-hander telling the tale of a day in the life of Jerry the electrician, Sparks attempts to shed light on “the loss of sense of identity in the face of economic collapse and how unreliable our personal narrative can be.” To do this successfully however, it would benefit from a little more work on construction.
Tone and pitch barely vary with Jerry, spanning only from anger to apoplexy.
First and foremost, actor Darren Killeen must be praised for his commitment to both energy and character. In the play’s supporting roles, Killeen pulls out some electrifying performances: as Jerry’s dogsbody apprentice his stammering vocals and comical hunch are absolutely on point; as his slovenly slug of a boss, Jake, he is marvellous - masticating on a mars bar and spraying forth saliva to stomach-turning effect. Killeen is unwavering and as much of a grafter as his character.
The main fault in Sparks’s system is a big one: The character of Jerry is not only intensely dislikeable, but patchily put together. It is a struggle to sympathise with a character who communicates to others near exclusively in bawls and shrieks; paroxysmal because a salesman takes too long checking his stock and spitting blood over the fact someone forgot to put sauce on his sandwich. Tone and pitch barely vary with Jerry, spanning only from anger to apoplexy. Attempts to humanise him are paltry: Jerry performs a two-minute monologue that plays like a whistle-stop tour of working men’s rage right around subjects spanning unemployment, immigration and the EU; in a flashback to Jerry’s childhood we are shown that he was once ridiculed by other children for his paintings. Such does not excuse such a toxic disposition. But Jerry does not even have consistency enough to be termed one-note. Why, for example, does a man unmitigated in his moans about the incompetency of his apprentice, and who yields not so much as a smile throughout the entirety of the play, send his apprentice to buy a glass hammer?
Such shakiness finds its foundation in uncertain blocking. Whilst there are some clever moments - when Jerry kneels at a plank and clasps his hands, is he at a church or a pub? - and Killeen’s physical switch from character to character is largely effective, the opening minutes of the play in particular feel loose and flat. Jerry wanders about the stage again and again searching for something with no indication to the audience of what (it is later revealed he needs a socket box). This is then followed by a section in which his apprentice does likewise (to show the audience he is incompetent). When the fruits of his search prove the incorrect ones, he once again searches around the stage. When the socket box is found, he must find a screwdriver. When the screwdriver is found, it’s the wrong kind. Such unnecessary repetition, with Killeen wandering around with no particular direction, feels messy and unengaging.
Overall, Sparks has flickers of brilliance but largely fails to deliver the goods. Whilst Killeen’s skills are commendable, it feels like with such a script and staging, he was simply given the wrong tools for the job.