Taking a pew in the beautiful St. Nicholas Church - the oldest in Brighton, with features dating back to the 10th Century, the last thing you might expect to see is a large computer screen dominating the altar area. 'Universe downloaded. Begin Play' says the screen and so the show begins.
Part play, part musical and part lecture... reminiscent of The Truman Show
Stage right are the band, dressed in hospital coats and bandage masks: patients, doctors, aliens? It’s hard to say.
Stage left an anonymous man wakes from a coma on a hospital bed, a mask covering his post-accident facial reconstruction, his memory gone. He devours reading material, especially political and philosophical tomes, and works with his psychiatrist using meditation and hypnotherapy.
This is our eponymous character, named after a dream he had whilst comatose, featuring the Angel of Death who called him ‘Trim Tab’, and the letter in his pocket addressed to ‘Jim’.
The show is about the fundamental importance of a ‘simple message’. It’s performed as a rock musical and suggests that we may all be part of a badly programmed computer game, acting subject to coding and under the illusion that we have freewill.
Trim Tab Jim, played by James Mannion lead vocalist and writer/creator of the show, sings his way through realisations whilst the back drop screen shows a series of film clips, from protest scenes to scientific discoveries. Mannion’s vocals are passionate and engaging, his songs varied enough to hold interest throughout. The only other actor on stage is the Psychiatrist.
In what is part play, part musical and part lecture, they discuss the pitfalls of contemporary activism, concluding that people shouldn’t outsource their power to politicians and that protests lack a simple clear message about the problem and its solution.
Following a mind-messing first half, the second half sees Trim Tab’s body double ‘singing’ about encompassing everything from the pulpit, Jesus on a crucifix behind him; the back drop screen shows us the seemingly randomly changing boundaries of the map of the world since the beginning of history; and a likeably frenzied Brighton news reporter keeps us up-to-date with the peaceful activism inspired by our hero – now unmasked, out of hospital, and sitting meditating on Greenwich Hill, his written manifesto for change hanging from a nearby tree. But it lacks something of the plot and heart of the first half.
I'm left wondering if what this show needs, to do full justice to Mannion’s inventive ideas and escalate it to Game-Changer of this year’s Fringe, is perspective from a lead actor who is not also the writer.
The show emerges as a discussion on ethics and freewill reminiscent of The Truman Show. The setting is special, the band accomplished, the material catchy, the plot absorbing, unsettling and ambitious.