“What good is it going to do you, moping about your flat all day”
New Artistic Director for the Soho Theatre, Steve Marmion, has chosen an ambitious way to start his tenure using one company to perform two plays – one English premiere of an Edinburgh hit and one new commission – both exploring matters of the mind and sanity. The first of these is Anthony Neilson’s Realism, the story of a man who wants to spend his Saturday doing ‘f*** all’, just curled up on his sofa. This he does, but what Neilson explores is that even in the act of physically doing nothing, the mind remains highly active and can take us on a marathon of a journey that can be just as exhausting as actually running one.
So the tiniest action our protagonist carries out: opening the post, putting a load of washing in, making some toast, triggers memories and trains of thoughts, delving into the full gamut of the emotionally bruising recent past, sexual fantasies and as far back as childhood but also spinning off into fantastical moments and imagining his own funeral. The hugely endearing Tim Treloar takes us on his journey with great skill, negotiating the peaks and troughs as his conscious and sub-conscious clash in the most bizarre of ways.
And it is bizarre. Neilson has conjured up the most imaginative of surreal landscapes all set within the cluttered flat designed by Tom Scutt, so that the raft of colourful characters that populate the mental wanderings emerge from the unlikeliest of places – through the television, inside the washing machine, up from the bin, tucked away in the fridge. And they are a motley crew as well, mixed in with his parents and ex-girlfriends, is a chirpy schoolboy Mullet, his cat Galloway, a group of debating politicians, oh and a troupe of wonderfully profane Black and White Minstrels.
It may all sound like a cacophonous whirl of insanity but Marmion’s guiding hand steers a steady course through this journey which is packed full of recognisably, relatable human moments. The unspeakable jokes that run through one’s head, the things one longs to say to cold-callers, the unknown reason for the pre-wash setting on the machine, what Desert Island Discs you would choose. The skill in Neilson’s writing is in creating a real sense of shared experience, so that even in the wackiest moments, we’re never more than a heartbeat or two away from a moment of chuckling recognition or flashes of acute insight.
Around Treloar, there’s great energy from the whole ensemble, particularly Shane Zaza’s manic Mullet as an impishly funny bad influence and Golda Rosheuvel as recent ex Angie whose departure has inspired Tim’s depressed funk and provides the moments of heartfelt attempts at explaining what went wrong. Rocky Marshall’s brief appearance as Galloway the cat is practically worth the admission fee alone and is symptomatic of the production as a whole: yes, there’s little that is conventional here and so the emotional trajectory is a curious one, but then when was the last time you had a highly entertaining daydream that made complete sense.