Plays by leading contemporary playwrights are becoming more common at the Fringe. It’s an interesting phenomenon, creating a tension between giving quality theatre more exposure and going against some of what the Fringe was originally all about. I’ll let you decide your politics: the fact is that this play is one of the best of this year’s Fringe.
If you value the art of theatre then there is no doubt that Title and Deed requires your support.
A monologue told by a traveller looking to understand and be accepted by a new place, Title and Deed examines loneliness, culture and family with an acute sense of tragicomedy and wit. Eno’s writing is poetic, with a surreal charm and humour that recalls Beckett without being an obvious continuation of the modernist aesthetic. Title and Deed is challenging without being alienating, original without being subversive. Passages of writerly ingenuity are offset by simple anecdotes and one-liners satisfying enough to be included in any stand-up set. Whilst a complex and ultimately serious piece, there is enough humour here to keep everyone entertained.
Conor Lovett’s performance is exceptional. His presence is gentle yet commanding; he is understated but possesses a quiet intensity that results in moments of spine-tingling anticipation. At every pause, there is complete silence from the audience. The script plays with the boundaries of the fourth wall in a way that demands a performer with the ability to control an audience without them realising that they are totally enthralled. Lovett is exactly that kind of performer.
As the protagonist announces details of his past, laughter quickly turns to prickly tragedy and Title and Deed becomes more and more melancholic. Eno’s balance between laughter and tragedy is beautifully paced, with clever changes of tone slowly reeling us into his character’s world. The irony in the simple humour threatens to be blurred as things become more difficult, but is ultimately recouped by Lovett’s possession of his character and the resolution of the play’s ending.
Not everyone will like the fact that such ‘high-end’ theatre is infiltrating the Fringe. Tickets are more expensive than average. But if this is way that things are going, then it seems to be in a direction that will sustain the vibrancy of contemporary theatre and make pieces of this calibre available to wider audiences. Whether you think this is enough to justify the ticket price is up to you, but if you value the art of theatre then there is no doubt that Title and Deed requires your support.