Text by Simon Bent
Everyman Theatre, Liverpool
Take a psychotherapist helping people while his own life falls apart. Give him a client whose self-built business will teeter on one mad moment of criminal temptation, a doctor who seems put there simply to question the therapist's own faith, and a young girl hiding in plain sight. Couch the whole thing in an hour and fifty minutes of psychobabble, draw a largely spurious parallel between Sigmund Freud and Harry Houdini, and you're pretty much there.
There are some nice visual ideas. Not as nice as they could have been, and anyone who has seen a company like Vanishing Point in action will be left distinctly underwhelmed. Laura Hopkins' set looks like a partially dismantled felt roof and is, in fact, a partially dismantled felt roof. It's all very symbolic. Of a partially dismantled felt roof.
There seems to be a grim determination that Freud and Houdini will collide, to the extent of providing a helpful timeline comparing the two men's lives in the programme. Apart from their being born in different countries eighteen years apart, raised on different continents and following completely different life-paths the similarities are well, non-existent. Yet the metaphor of therapy as escape, or the correct solution to life's problems being escape, is not so much over-stressed as beaten to a bloody pulp in front of us.
The Escapologist is absolutely about men. The concerns are about men, the stories are about men and what women there are are there to drive the men's' stories forward. One of the few genuinely telling pieces of symbolism in The Escapologist is the cast; there are three men to cover the male parts, with only one female actor to cover all the adult females, which allows the play to be both confusing and predictable at the same time. Now of course there's no law that says a play can't be focussed on a single gender, no law to say that a play showing disintegrating relationships has to make a fair stab at showing both sides, but this, and the psychobabble, does leave one with a sense that one has spent the evening in a particularly dour male menopause support group.
The right response to The Escapologist is a halfhearted shrug. It doesn't actively suck. Mind you, it doesn't actively do much of anything. There are worse plays out there, but there are better. The acting is strong, although Selina Boyack delivers her lines in a defiant monotone. One can forgive her for that, given that her sole reason for being on stage would seem to be as a foil for two hours of male mid-life crisis. If your idea of fun is being grabbed in pubs by the drunk middle-aged bloke faintly smelling of BO and wee while he tells you the woes of his life, then this is the play for you.
"The Escapologist" is on tour.
Reviewer: Ged Quayle