Paradise in the Vault (Venue 29)
Theatre (New Writing, Physical Theatre)
run now finished
‘Sad Little Man’ is the sophomore Fringe production by Pub Corner Poets. Writer Josh Overton returns after his controversial 2016 script ‘Angry.’ Where ‘Angry’ was structured around collective voice and political discontent, ‘Sad Little Man’ is an introverted piece, set within the mind of its main character, Lee (Oliver Strong). Lee is an evidently disturbed individual, and ‘Sad Little Man’ orbits his trauma. As with ‘Angry,’ ‘Sad Little Man’ is a divisive play. Lee is joined on stage by Emily (Danielle Harris), who remains largely mute throughout the performance. Their relationship is cryptic, passionate, and violent. The audience is made witness to Lee’s interpretation of the beginning of their relationship, it’s progression, and it’s abrupt end.
‘Sad Little Man’ employs a range of theatrical techniques to construct its mystery. Where Lee communicates through poetry and prose, Emily uses dance and movement. Unfortunately, as the play progresses it becomes painfully clear that Emily’s story is more interesting than Lee’s, more impactful to the plot, and of greater consequence. Despite this, the script contorts itself to prevent Emily explaining herself. Her scripted words can be counted on two hands before things take a very dark turn.
There are hints of Emily’s story throughout ‘Sad Little Man’. In a montage of the couple attending a party, a drunk Lee attempts to strike Emily. We are told by Lee that their arguments are mutually vociferous, and yet they are only ever described by Lee. This could be interesting subtext conveyed by a delusional narrator. But ‘4:48 Psychosis,’ this is not. Instead ‘Sad Little Man’ groans under the weight of a self-flagellating main character whose response of his girlfriend’s suicide barely extends beyond the climactic line; “I am a sad little man.”
As with ‘Angry,’ Overton recreates violence without interrogating it. The characters of ‘Sad Little Man’ demonstrate shockingly sparse motivation, instead browbeating the audience into a state of trauma. Its success as a production is entirely due to a compelled performance by Strong and Harris, and some deft directorial touches by Tyler Mortimer.
‘Sad Little Man’ is the smart production of a catastrophically flawed script. Pub Corner Poets demonstrate good technique, but without substance these stylistic choices feel shallow. Towards the end of the play I was reminded of another sad little man’s response to his wife’s suicide: “it is a tale… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”