The Art of Falling Apart

Robert Farquhar
Big Wow
Unity Theatre, Liverpool

Big Wow's The Art of Falling Apart

A confession: as a reviewer, whenever I read the words ‘written and directed by’ I reach for my gun. It is a phrase which almost always portends an evening of monomaniacal, self-indulgent, overblown claptrap being inflicted upon an innocent and unsuspecting public.

Thankfully, there are a few exceptions to this rule, and The Art of Falling Apart proves to be one of those blessed exceptions.

Rarely have I seen two performers take such total ownership of a script, and this is a credit not just to Tim Lynskey and Matt Rutter, but also to their writer / director, Robert Farquhar.

The opening sketch plays on the thought that there are no new ideas, where a desperate failing pitch is unexpectedly met with a commissioning executive’s rave response about the genius of this ‘anti-idea’ idea. The notion of failing and of being a failure is the thread which runs through the show—indeed the subtitle for this production might well be “Nothing Succeeds Like Failure”, for soon we are invited to chant along with American motivational speaker, Zig Zaggler, ‘I am a failure!’ It’s a risky ploy so early in the show, but the audience get into the spirit and roll with it.

From then on, we follow Callum (Lynskey), a salesman of Internet advertising space with ‘not a bad life’. It is through Callum that we will explore the art of falling apart. It all begins when the ATM eats his cash card and Gordon, the bank’s telephone operative, demonstrates how to take the ‘help’ out of ‘helpline’.

David Mamet’s play Edmund provides a study of a man who walks out on his comfortable yet unfulfilled life with fatal consequences. In The Art of Falling Apart, Callum walks out on his comfortable but unfulfilled life with comic consequences—comic enough to have this audience literally crying at times with laughter.

Although verbally the script is very sharp, much of the comedy is physical. Lynskey and Rutter commit fully and imaginatively to this and their reward (and ours) is an hour and a half of borderline-manic fun which barely flags.

In this two-man show, Rutter excels and revels in the chance to play a range of characters with accents from across the British Isles (while Lynskey leaps gleefully into his occasional chances to morph from the increasingly bedraggled and bewildered Callum into other hyperactive forms).

When Callum accepts an invitation to join gullible, loquacious and overly-friendly Irishman Brian for a cup of tea back at his place, the touch paper is lit for a giddy spiral into hysterical, insane action. For Callum’s sake, we wish that he’d settled for the Cup-a-Soup and left before Brian’s friends arrive for his birthday party. For our sakes, we’re glad he didn’t.

As the party “fun” heats up, Lynskey and Rutter slide from one character into another and another and then back again with head-spinning speed, timing and skill.

Finally escaping the hilariously cloying and needy Brian, the penniless Callum finds himself in the clutches of a mad-eyed stranger, who first buys him drinks then plies him with various pills. The stranger takes Callum on a “proper” night out—drink, drugs, disco, karaoke, good trips and bad, all topped off with the inescapable “deep philosophical” reflection as the night grinds to a wittily unhinged close.

Whilst comedy rules here, the production is not without its poignant elements—these ‘moments’ are few but telling, adding essential variety to the pace as well as depth to the mood.

Big Wow has put together a furiously fine production. Simon James’s soundscapes are constructed and impressively edited, cranking up the excitement and the humour in perfect sync with the pace of the script.

Liverpool is a city where you can pay a small fortune in the uncertain hope of getting 90 minutes of entertainment (of the blue or the red kind), every other Saturday. At the Unity Theatre for the next couple of weeks, you’ll get 90 minutes of guaranteed fun for a fraction of that price. True, there’ll be no halftime cuppa (there’s no interval) but, trust me, you won’t miss it.

Reviewer: Martin Thomasson