From the novel by John Birmingham – adapted for the stage by Simon Bedack, Steve le Marquand and Michael Neaylon
Profit share production
As its author(s) would be the first to tell you, plot-wise He Died With A Felafel In His Hand sucks. If you are looking for a well-made play full of tension and dramatic climaxes, this is not the show for you. There are, indeed, a number of climaxes in Felafel (memorably in the perving scene), but not of the theatrical type. Instead, the writers have put together a series of wildly comic scenes featuring some of the extraordinary collection of sexual deviants, druggies and misfits with whom, apparently, John Birmingham shared houses in his misspent youth.
Birmingham’s 1994 novel has now been adapted for stage, film and graphic novel, achieving cult status in record time. The stage adaptation, directed here by Lewis Jones for a group named ‘someone’, calls for a versatile cast of three men and three women to portray the innumerable and varied inhabitants of Birmingham’s world. Lucas Stibbard’s character remains relatively stable (if that is an appropriate word in this zany context) as Birmingham himself. Stefan Cooper-Fox and Leon Cain, on the other hand, are required to morph from pumped-up hunk to crazed junkie, from S&M addict to suburban dad and all variations in between. The women too, (Judy Hainsworth, Louise Brehmer, and Bridget Boyle) transform themselves into a dazzling display of innocents, prostitutes, dominatrixes, lesbians, horn bags and nutcases. (Have I missed out any other types of women? Oh yes, mothers.)
Predictably, the language is crude, the scenes (imagine a spitting competition with the audience as target, a fridge mistaken for a lavatory … need I go on?) designed to appal – but the effect is often hilariously funny. The young audience responded enthusiastically to all the jokes – though some lines were thrown away to such an extent that only the closest or most tuned-in members of the audience caught them all. However, apart from the bad taste jokes and scatological humour there is also plenty of wit in Birmingham’s writing, as readers of his novels will know. One of the cleverest and funniest scenes is one in which two of the men engage in a conversation about their love lives. This is made up entirely of clichés and second-hand phrases which they exchange while solemnly battling out a video game. Very Pinter-esque.
But what carries this show, which is rather too long given its essentially repetitive structure, is the energy of the performances. All members of this ensemble share a talent for comedy but, while their timing and delivery of lines was generally good, what really impressed me was their controlled physicality. Whether leaping around in manic party mode, doing push-ups (double-entendre intended), performing a joyless bump-and-grind number, wielding a whip, gyrating sexily or mincing and pouting, the cast found just the right presence and movement for each of their many characters. For example, Leon Cain and Louise Brehmer’s brief but effective portrayal of the (fictional) Birmingham parents reminds us that, on top of all the youthful exuberance, this is a group of serious actors with plenty of technical skills and an attention to detail.
Yes, this is a show written for and directed at a young audience, but there is a lot here too for all but the most up-tight oldie to enjoy. Some of the memorable moments for me, for example, were the simple but dramatically choreographed set-pieces; including the clever milk-crate dance, the aerial martial arts battle, the quite irrelevant but very amusing torchlight number, and the wonderful dance with a blow-up doll, which Leon Cain manages to make both extremely funny and oddly moving. But, like the rest of the audience, I was most often convulsed by the sheer vulgar fun of the show.
It is salutary to be reminded from time to time that all drama evolved from the obscene comedy of ancient Greek choruses, from which this show is in a direct line of descent. Go and see He Died With a Felafel In His Hand if you want a good way to relax and unwind at the end of the year, but leave your hang-ups behind. (That sounds vaguely obscene in the context of this show, but you know what I mean.)
Directed by Lewis Jones
Playing until 17 December: Tue-Sat 8pm, Sat 10 &17: 6pm and 9pm.
Running time 2 hrs 10 mins , including interval