I'm a Fool to Want You
Conceived and Directed by Paul Hunter
Told by an Idiot
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, and touring
The best place to begin praising I'm A Fool To Want You is probably with the first thing the audience sees when they enter the auditorium - namely, Naiomi Wilkinson's creative and inspiring set, which literally sets the stage for the story of Boris Vian (Stephen Harper): musician, surrealist, poet, novelist, and subversive (to name only a few of his talents).
Wilkinson's set takes two wooden surfaces and sets them at right angles, so that one forms the floor of the stage space and the other, the rear wall. What makes the set fit the piece so well is how Wilkinson has built stationary chairs, shoes, doors, steps, and windows into it, allowing it to be fully utilized by the cast as they make their way through the play.
The play tells the story of the aforementioned Boris Vian and his love affair with soulmate Ursula (Hayley Carmichael). The two meet at a barber shop, each wanting to look like a famous black jazz musician despite the fact that they're both white. Despite Boris' having a wife, the two proceed to have a fulfilling, obstacle-free relationship.
From the moment of his entrance onto the stage, Harper is sympathetic and engaging. He infuses his performance with an affection that draws the audience into his performance, rendering them unable to resist the charm and simplicity of this love story - not that anyone in the auditorium seemed to want to resist such a charming character.
Equally likable is Carmichael, whose open style and willingness to throw herself (quite literally at times!) into her performance makes us accept her in the variety of roles she is called upon to play. Perhaps these parts could have been more differentiated, but at the same time there's a case to be made for Ursula being every woman Vian inhabited, so perhaps the similar styles of acting used for each character was intentional.
As with any play rooted in a musical style, I'm A Fool To Want You relies heavily on the musical accompaniment that narrates scenes which use dialogue sparingly at best. Composed by Zoe Rahman and performed alternately by herself and Alcyona Mick (who performed on the night I attended), the music does a perfect job of offsetting the storyline.
Hunter's direction is flawless, shining through in moments like a tennis game where Harper flings a tennis ball attached to a fishing pole over the audience (with excellent aim; he didn't hit a single audience member despite some sincerely enthusiastic whipping of the ball back and forth) and a dancing scene late in the play where Harper and Carmichael lie on the floor imitating swing dance routines.
The story is clear and directly told, alternating between the moments when Vian attended the cinema to see a film based on his novel I Spit On Your Graves and memories of earlier times. Vian's weak heart means that when he becomes enraged by the treatment his script has received at the hands of a director, he suffers a heart attack - the action of the play is located between the beginning of the attack and the end of his life.
I'm A Fool To Want You is a piece of theatre which can be described as poignant, classy, clever, funny, and thrilling. It is well worth the time and money of any theatre-goer, and will appeal to a wide range of audiences.
Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody