After a rave reception for his controversially-named Fringe debut last year,
Wielding an unpretentious fluency in how it explores people's hopes and fears, and should have you laughing throughout.
This Will End Badly charts the breakdown of a down-on-his-luck 'Misery Guts' and his struggles with a plethora of issues – anxiety, paranoia, OCD, constipation – all leading to a dark climax in the aftermath of painful heartbreak. But all is not gloomy: Hayes' winning wit is on true form here, deftly weaving a comic bathos through all of his suffering, even finding a place for some literal toilet humour.
Hayes's script manages to remain utterly candid and personal, without any of the emotional indulgence one might expect to follow. 'Misery Guts' is fiercely self-aware and self-deprecating – a failed friend, lover, and TV jingle composer – ensuring that he is always engaging and often surprisingly hilarious. Whether describing his phobias or niche fetishes in excruciating detail, the character is perpetually changing direction. He is a victim to his own thoughts, jumping from one story to another fear, sifting equally among nice-guy feminism and open biological misogyny, arriving wherever the mood takes him. Hayes' has captured the seamless flow of contradictions that is human nature, and made them utterly relatable.
Ben Whybrow is to be highly commended for fully immersing himself in the character (and having a gorgeous accent). Something falls short, however, in his engagement with the audience. His speech never seems to really address anyone in the stalls, never moves past the fourth wall – possibly too clinically rehearsed to find vitality in a live, fresh audience. Occasionally a burst of emotion, though effective, would harm the diction as well, losing the odd phrase – which is a shame when each phrase is so well crafted.
Given the ingenuity of last year's offering, it's surprising that This Will End Badly is a bit more grounded in a traditional format. In aiming at a more realistic outlook, the play shies away from embracing more surreal opportunities – the imaginary friend, doodled on a scrap of paper, could have made a startling appearance in one of the more hallucinatory moments, or at least made its way as a decoration into the rather basic set design. Some neat moments of lighting, too, seem underused. But the show as it is has much to offer in its depth, wielding an unpretentious fluency in how it explores people's hopes and fears, and should have you laughing throughout.