Thom Pain (Based on Nothing)

Will Eno
The Print Room

John Light as Thom Pain Credit: Hugo Glendinning

‘Comedy’ these days seem to mean stand-up comedians rather than a play to most people.

In the same vein, I am tempted to call Will Eno’s beautifully-written 2004 play (a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer prize for Drama) ‘Tragedy’, for it is certainly stand-up in format and, though an audience may find a lot of it funny, this Thom Pain character isn’t trying to make people laugh. No, in his rambling ruminations he’s looking at quite serious things.

It starts with advancing footsteps in darkness, a match flickers and goes out, and a second one. There’s a tension, a slight feeling of menace and Mr Pain—note the name—begins by defining fear but, even before the lights come up a few moments later, you are already feeling this gentle-voiced man can’t be dangerous.

Eventually, he goes into a story about a small disfigured boy and an electrocuted dog, interacts with the audience, talks about an encounter with a girlfriend, seems about to do things and changes his mind. If you are one of those people scared stiff of being picked on in the audience, there is some element of risk, and it is true that the gentlest of people can turn into madmen, but it is obvious that this is all carefully scripted, which makes you feel pretty safe.

John Light performs it beautifully. You can almost see the shifts as his brain flicks from one thing to another, but at the same time the pleasure comes from enjoying the performance and the clever construction. In real life this man would be a terrible bore and had the show gone on longer this too could have become boring; you can only take so much phoney philosophising.

It is extraordinarily clever but I couldn’t help wondering what would happen with an audience of Comedy Club hecklers.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton