Atrium Theatre, University of South Wales
On 15 February 2017
Review by Othniel Smith
Developed with some assistance from Swansea-based physical theatre specialists Volcano and choreographer Tori Johns, the piece has been designed with Edinburgh-fringe sized venues in mind, and combines the autobiographical with the spectacular, to divertingly bemusing effect.
The word “bonkers” was used on social media by a fellow reviewer who viewed the online trailer for Flash; a not entirely inappropriate observation given that the piece was partly inspired (as discussed in the post-show Q and A) by the actor’s past history of psychological breakdown.
As the performance commences, however, we are primed to expect something celebratory. Party poppers are waiting for us on our seats (along with strict instructions not to fire them off until requested to) and the imperiously sarcastic voice-over DJ announces the opening track, while the actor prepares himself behind an array of pink curtain-strips. He poses like Freddie Mercury in Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" video, before emerging, and wishing audience-members a happy birthday.
Thomas declares his intention to show us days in his life when things went badly, or well. He portrays a past incarnation living as though in a self-directed 1980s-style science-fiction-inflected rock video, complete with cheering audiences and dinosaurs; although he has difficulty in coping with the number-pad at the entrance to his flat, not to mention the supermarket self-checkout. There also seems to be some girlfriend trouble.
The narrative, such as it is, is disrupted on several occasions, often by Thomas himself, as we take a trip through a disorderly psyche. This apparent lack of discipline, however, is belied by the precision of his interaction with the technically impressive soundscape (put together by Thomas himself, although technical stage manager David Marc Thomas also deserves plaudits).
Mercifully for those who share my indifference to late-period Queen, although Freddie is a significant inspiration, other music is frequently referenced: Toto, George Michael and, at a particularly emotional moment, Elvis Costello. The intentionally amateurish video montage is another highlight, as is the much-teased drum-solo climax.
During the post-show discussion, Thomas seemed to betray a reluctance to explicitly foreground the mental health aspects of Flash; he also suggested that future versions might include fewer narrative elements. Personally, however, I felt that it was these features which made it relatable to an audience who might otherwise remain amused but bewildered.
More shambolically comical than traumatic, Flash is held together by Thomas’s engaging on-stage persona. The piece is highly accessible and consistently entertaining; while we are never quite sure exactly where we are being led, the journey is an enjoyable one.