The Penniless Optimist
theSpace on the Mile
The penniless optimist is a zany for the 21st century, a Chaplinesque figure with empty pockets and bowler hat, adrift in a world where values have gone astray.
But our optimist makes a grave mistake early on, when, having lost his optimism hat and at his most down-and-out, he listens to a voice telling him he should get a job like everyone else. And so he ends up on life’s treadmill, slaving away in a call centre, the brunt of angry clients, until he snaps and is fired.
Alone in his room, on the dole, drink and drugs fail to help, until a free media pack arrives, free because "every house should have one" and our penniless pessimist is now overwhelmed with reality TV.
Soon he is lost in 24-7 game shows, adverts, soaps and quizzes, all of which he consumes empathetically, lives the fictional reality, the eternally dashed hopes of jackpot prizes, the bids for fame and the ignominy of failure, the shame of being a nobody. Will our hero break out of his sordid prison?
This is a very high-octane show and this middle section of mimicking TV shows, zapping channels and quick reactions is superbly funny. The physical performance is very good and the mask quite genial.
At the beginning, the performer tries too hard to engage us with his character and there is some lack of clarity, but that passes, we do empathize, we laugh in recognition of the absurdity of contemporary life and applaud his liberation.
The performer deserves a bigger space for his energy, to allow the show to breath, but he is endearing and we are all relieved when he decides that being a penniless optimist is a privilege of its own, freedom from the phoney desires and anxieties of our consumer treadmill.
Could we follow his example and liberate the penniless zany in us all?
Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher