Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Theatre review: Ticking

TV and film writer Paul Andrew Williams makes his stage debut with Ticking, a play that seems to take inspiration from Michael Wall's 1986 play Amongst Barbarians but then takes its dark theme off into a weirdly domestic direction. Simon (Tom Hughes) is a middle-class Englishman in his twenties who's been found guilty of murdering a prostitute in China. He's always protested his innocence but after four years in a Chinese prison he faces execution by firing squad at midnight. With a few hours to go and his American lawyer (David Michaels) desperately trying to get a last-minute reprieve, Simon's parents (Anthony Head and Niamh Cusack) arrive to spend a final hour with their son. They find him angry and frustrated, unsurprisingly, but instead of his captors his anger seems to be directed at them, and especially his father.

So for his last hour with them he decides to interrogate his parents on their past together, with the unspoken suggestion that something about their marriage and his upbringing is to blame for where he is now.

For a play called Ticking there's a strange lack of urgency to this countdown to what is likely to be Simon's death. I know writer-directors are more common in film, but it's still not something I generally like in theatre, especially when it's Williams' first work for the stage (apart from anything else, going from screen to a thrust stage hasn't been entirely successful in terms of blocking.) He's got a twist to the story, but he gets to it in a leisurely way that leaves Simon seeming like he's attacking his parents for no reason - within a few minutes you can't wait for the firing squad to get rid of this deeply unpleasant character.

He does, as it turns out, have a reason for behaving so badly to what seems a perfectly inoffensive middle-aged couple, who don't display many signs of the emotional distance their son accuses them of. He's been holding back a final revelation about his father but when it finally comes it's out of nowhere, leaving it feeling unearned and unsatisfying.

Tony Head and Niamh Cusack are the reason I wanted to see a show that sounded pretty bleak to start with, and Cusack in particular delivers a heartbreaking performance - her face alone conveys so much in the moments when I could see it. Unfortunately from the side seats she had her back to me most of the time so one of the show's biggest pluses is lost; I was left with little to engage me in the rather unlikely story of a son using his own execution to settle a score with his father.

Ticking by Paul Andrew Williams is booking until the 7th of November at Trafalgar Studio 2.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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