Not that this hugely disappointing turnout effects the performances one iota in Northern Outlet Theatre Companies’ double bill. The first half of the evening sees a performance of Murray Schisgal’s monologue ‘Naked Old Man.’ Richard Sails plays an ageing 82 year old playwright, a New Yorker who holds forth on topics as disparate as impotence, religious doubt and artistic fulfilment.
It’s a virtuoso performance from Sails, delivering a monologue that technically asks quite a lot of the actor, compelling him as it does to interact with the ghosts of three dead colleagues.
What follows is essentially a meditation on mortality. It’s a very intelligent, well-judged script that never allows the character to wallow in self-pity or sentiment. It’s a convincing performance too from Sails, who manages to convey the fragility and fear that lie beneath the bravado of this immensely likeable raconteur.
After the interval attention turns to George Gunby’s drama John and Mark, a fascinating insight into the mind of Mark Chapman played with just the right amount of psychopathic control by Matthew Howard-Norman. From his room in a psychiatric hospital, Chapman receives a visit from the ghost of Lennon. Now playing a legend is always a challenge for any actor even more so in front of a home crowd, but hats off to Lee Joseph who pulls this off with something to spare.
The tension between the two characters is palpable. Chapman remains cool and almost icily detached while Lennon veers from incredulity to frustration touching upon blind rage along the way. It also helps that Joseph bears more than a passing physical resemblance to the great man. A word also for Tracy Gabbitas who plays multiple roles most prominently those of a psychiatrist and Aunt Mimi.
At times you can almost hear the proverbial pin drop. Mr Joseph plays Lennon with just the right amount of swagger and vulnerability. There’s also glimpses of that famous waspishness as the ex-Beatle attempts to break through to a man whose reasoning is unfathomable and whose version of reality has been constructed with wrought iron. Chapman emerges as an utterly chilling and deluded individual.
This is theatre at its very best: minimal set, stripped of artifice and no gizmos required either. Soon the audience is completely wrapped up in this ping pong game of accusation and counter-accusation both characters proving themselves rather adept at playing those mind games.
This very brave double-bill next heads off to Manchester where it can only be hoped that it does not meet with the same indifference experienced in Liverpool. Nevertheless, all those involved have every right to be very proud of themselves for providing a thoroughly stimulating evening of theatre.