Thief by Liam Rudden

I was relieved when Sailor (Matt Robertson) ran onstage starkers, as I was pretty sure that the stage adaptation of Magic Mike wouldn’t require the pen and soggy bit of paper I’d smuggled into the back row. The Marlborough was packed. And excited. I had to crane my neck around the burly men in front of me to even catch a glimpse of buttocks. But despite this early divestment, Thief remained tantalisingly layered, cloaked in the dreamy mingling of pain, sex, beauty and desire that preoccupied many a French philosopher in the early part of the twentieth century.

Tantalisingly layered, cloaked in the dreamy mingling of pain, sex, beauty and desire.

Thief is based loosely on the early life of Jean Genet, who spent the years following his discharge from the Foreign Legion as a prostitute, thief and general troublemaker – experiences which inform his 1949 novel, The Thief’s Journal. Our hero is full of marauding bravado as he recounts his method – pleasure the client, lift something valuable, and run. Danger is an aphrodisiac, as is power. No one makes a victim of Sailor. Except, of course, Sailor himself.

Thief offers up its lone character as Jekyll and Hyde, a man driven by self-destruction, waking each day to marvel at the marks his escapades have left on his body. It’s a queer story at heart, but in my humble estimation, a decidedly unsexy one. Sailor’s justification for his pursuits wavers like the point of a compass on a journey – he tells us he likes the pain. Then he tells us he likes the danger. But is his vagabond journey a pursuit of pleasure? Or an endless pursuit of ways to obliterate the pain? Liam Rudden’s story offers up more questions with each glimpse into Sailor’s story, answers that defy and burst out of simple, labelled boxes.

Structurally, however, this piece is as neatly wrapped as a toaster in the Debenhams’ wedding registry – clean and coherent, delivered seamlessly. It’s an impressive performance; lyrical, accomplished – Robertson manages to elicit sympathy while extolling the virtues of exchanging blow jobs for wallets. But our collective gaze has a complicated effect on Sailor – every fleeting glance is a complicated dose of the medicine Sailor has prescribed himself. The only thing left for the audience to decipher is what will happen when Sailor uses up all his bottled charisma, the thing that keeps us hanging on his tenor burr, when his lean, peachy frame turns grey and the grapes, ahem, wither.

But, to be honest, it’s enough. After all the tease and titillation, the unbelievable stories, the oblivion, you’re left feeling ever so slightly and, I believe, intentionally, empty; my only objection lies with the decision not to end the show one scene earlier (a point which would probably offer an interesting debate). ‘The transience of beauty’, which Thief claims to explore, is a sad, complicated excavation. How this is so handily accomplished with one man, a barrel and a bunch of grapes needs to be seen to be understood.

Reviews by Amy Holtz

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Thief by Liam Rudden

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The Blurb

Sailor thrives in the bars, dives and flop-houses of the most squalid ports... Look, you will see him. Sailor lives for robbery, imprisonment and expulsion... Be his victim. Sailor's 'virtues' are simple: rent, theft, and betrayal... Join him. Inspired by the life and works of playwright and poet Jean Genet, 'Thief' is a dark and challenging piece of theatre, not for the easily offended. Thief will première at Brighton Fringe 2014.