The Rise and Fall of Lenny Smallman (The Greatest Singer Songwriter You've Never Heard Of)

Richard Lumsden
Arts Theatre
(2008)

Publicity photo

There's a very good reason no one has ever heard of Lenny Smallman. He's an excruciatingly tiresome loser you would gladly pay to avoid.

One can only hope Richard Lumsden's 'singer songwriter' bears no autobiographical touches, but whatever the back-story, it does not excuse inflicting Smallman on the general public.

Perhaps inspired by lovable dorks such as Napoleon Dynamite or Flight of the Conchords, Smallman fails to recreate any of the necessary charm and wit for such an anti-hero to survive.

The play opens with the sounds of a crowd. Smallman's performing at a music festival, and we've become the spectators.

Dressed head-to-toe in black, he stands with a guitar strapped to his back.

Every drop of enthusiasm then evaporates, both in fiction and reality, as he saddles the audience with the musings of a failed musician and a song about ageing.

It's self-deprecation in the same vein as Alan Partridge or Ricky Gervais' David Brent, but holding out for similar sophistication is futile.

The flashbacks of Smallman's life to date which follow, also accompanied by topical songs, are just as joyless.

The teen crush on Natalie; fumbling in the dark for his first kiss with Sally; reciting Hamlet's 'To be, or not to be" during his first experience of fellatio at 24 years old... while it might sound potentially funny, in a Superbad kind of way, it's more like listening to extracts from a discarded diary you wish you'd never written.

It's not that Lumsden (writer and performer of the 100 minute one-man-show) is without talent. His timing is superb, and needs to be. All the supporting characters are imaginary, and Lumsden's confident shadow-acting leaves us in no doubt as to what's going on. Musically he is also quite clearly gifted.

Three guitars, a piano, harmonica and a lute all get an airing. Neither is Matthew Ashforde's directing static, nor the set uninventive. On the contrary, ingenious stage tricks both conceal and reveal a three piece supporting band behind the stage. But, unfortunately, no combination of distractions can mask the flatness of the writing.

Lyrics such as "I've sailed the seven seas, brought dragons to their knees" and a relentless string of clichéd scenarios wash over like interminable bad breath.

By the time Smallman calls for sympathy, either when his ultimate romance with Natalie backfires or while bemoaning his pathetic existence, it's far too late. And let's just pretend the desperate, leotarded, arse-waving finale didn't happen.

Stranded between comedy and tragedy, without the appeal of either, one can only hope this serves as lesson to anyone else trying to create a cult out of failure.

Reviewer: Christian McLaughlin