An Amazonian tribe, a German arch-nemesis and The Bourne Ultimatum are just three of the things on the mind of world-renowned adventurer Stackard Banks, played with much gusto by Ed MacArthur in his near-solo show about exploration, identity and, inexplicably, The Bourne Ultimatum. Blending fast-paced comic storytelling with very original musical interludes, MacArthur creates a genuinely funny piece of theatre where the jokes hit far more often than they miss.
The non-musical parts of MacArthur’s show are frequently hilarious and the obscure Bourne Ultimatum references are the icing on the cake for anyone sad enough to get them (I definitely was)
The premise is interesting: Banks “comes clean” and tells the story of a disastrous expedition to the Amazon for the first time. Believing wholeheartedly in his own supremacy, he eschews the use of technology for the trip and soon finds himself in a whole heap of trouble. MacArthur clearly enjoys playing the prejudiced explorer and on the whole he pulls off the part with aplomb. Most of the humour is universal enough to get most of the room laughing along with him, a notable example being a great set-piece where he acts out a three-way argument with himself. These more chaotic moments are when MacArthur can really prove his comic mastery and even if things go slightly awry he improvises his way out of it with skill. The songs, however, prove to be more divisive: odd phrases are deliberately shoehorned over the music, a technique that quickly grows repetitive whilst not really adding to the narrative.
Other sounds succeed where the songs do not. Comedy effects and pre-recorded voices are used throughout to great effect: MacArthur can focus on building a cast of strong main characters rather than getting sidetracked doing funny voices. This being a free show, the equipment is understandably lo-fi with most samples being triggered from a laptop at the side of the stage. The system works well, though; any technical mishaps are weaved skilfully by MacArthur into Banks’ slowly collapsing world.
The show isn’t perfect and interesting ideas are often introduced and quickly forgotten: a subplot involving Banks’ German rival doesn’t go anywhere despite initial promise. That said, Stackard Banks is Self-Discovered is so light on it feet that this doesn’t really pose a problem – if anything it adds to its slightly slapdash charm. The non-musical parts of MacArthur’s show are frequently hilarious and the obscure Bourne Ultimatum references are the icing on the cake for anyone sad enough to get them (I definitely was). A thoroughly enjoyable hour of free comedy theatre.