“I haven’t got long Mum, tell me something nice”
Whilst sitting through Paul Andrew Williams’ play Ticking, I was constantly reminded of a Madonna lyric, ‘time goes by, so slowly’. Though under 90 minutes in length and played out in real-time, Williams’ self-directed drama stretches time unforgivably in a way not seen since the Donmar’s interminable Moonlight – had it been easier to leave my seat without walking right across the stage in this bijou studio, I would have done so.
Simon is on death row in a Chinese prison, having been found guilty of murder, and has one last hour to spend with his parents. But he’s no tear-stained victim, he’s a thoroughly obnoxious rich kid and has opted to use this time to work through his long-held problems with his mother and particularly his father, shattering the illusions of the past but also any inkling whatsoever that this is a character we should care anything for (as of course we’re meant to do once the twist eventually unfolds).
The mind-games Simon tries to play are artfully contrived, the apparent issues just not present, the reveals unconnected to what has gone before. It’s all more the baffling for having a top quality cast delivering it though – no less than Niamh Cusack and Anthony Head lead the company, together with bright young thing Tom Hughes, but there’s little they can do with this material, which seems to suck their very talent from the air (Hughes suffers the most, with some frightening overACTING going on) along with any chance of real dramatic tension.
Opportunities to explore a foreign justice system are unexplored, which is fine as the story focus is elsewhere, but Williams can’t resist an insidious vein of mildly xenophobic humour and inserting a Chinese prison guard who doesn’t get to speak. Throw in his painfully evident inexperience for directing for the stage – this isn’t the easiest of spaces to work in but there is zero attempt to work with and vary sightlines – and the only thing that should be ticking is some explosive device to give us all sweet release.