Never Trust a Man Bun, written by Katherine Thomas and directed by Scott Le Crass, is currently performing at the Stockwell Playhouse in London.
I will start this review with the dramatic text. I felt that the writing focused far too much upon the eccentric personalities, idiosyncrasies and behaviours of the characters. Additionally, the action was often explained to the audience rather than revealed. For example, Lucy (Katherine Thomas) states regularly that “Caps is manipulative.” Yet, without exclamations like this, it would have been rather difficult for me to understand that Caps (Jack Forsyth-Noble) was, in fact, having any sort of feasible influence over the other characters at all.
To explain this further: when I left the performance, I had no idea of what the real meat or problematic of the play was. I found myself asking many questions, among which were: Was Lucy actually in love with Gus (Calum Robshaw)? And precisely why did Rachael (Natasha Grace Hutt) fall 'back' in love with Caps so abruptly and readily?
I felt that my confusion was caused primarily by the concealment of crucial information. Caps regularly takes characters off stage where significant and insidious complications seem to transpire. The problem I have with this is that onstage action and dialogue are too trivial, and the ‘manipulations’ we see orchestrated by Caps are too direct, blatant and punitive. It is not realistic that these alone would change characters’ minds so drastically to cause discords and breakups in the way that they did.
It would have been far richer to have had the characters — and the audience — be endeared by Caps, to see him as an intriguing, charming, compassionate character who is then revealed through the other characters’ escalating altercations to be a conniving, corrupt and exploitative manipulator. Unfortunately, as it stood, this lack of subtlety and the classic error of “telling not showing” denoted lazy writing, for me.
There was a sheer lack of thorough conceptualisation and continuity: Lucy, via her compliance to Caps, seems interested in his plan but then calls him out repeatedly as a calculative scoundrel; and in the end, Rachael positions herself seductively upon the sofa for Caps, then tells him that she loves Gus too dearly to defy him, and then eagerly runs off with him. These are just two complications that seem unnatural to me. Subtextually or conceptually, these may make sense, but the manner in which they are presented is not so convincing.
This brings me on to characterisation. Thomas evidently favoured the character of Rachael, considering the large presence she has in the script — and rightly so; she is an extremely endearing and comical character and was captured extremely well by Natasha Grace Hutt — but to contrast her high energy with the low energies of the rest of the characters is a red flag. There was a lot of stillness in this performance, though I do feel that this was primarily a directorial and/or editorial issue. In places, this created tension, but usually, it was a tension unwanted.
As I stated before, Caps was too loud and domineering and yet Bisset-Smith's physicality was very low energy. Gus was too parental and authoritative, and it was difficult to sense his desires and needs. Equally, Katherine Thomas’s performance as Lucy was too cold and spiteful, and this implicated Lucy’s piteousness.
All characters need a soft spot, and it was difficult to see any raw emotions in the characters. However, though the actors’ characterisations do play a large part in character reception, I cannot stress enough how this particular dramatic text did not leave space for visible and enticing character development or plot progression. Characters’ emotions are much more complicated than “This character is pessimistic and cold; let’s make her endlessly bitchy.” Dynamism and layering are required to make a character dimensional and engaging. And why would an audience care for a bitch, unless we understand her bitchiness to be a guard or a downfall? I will note, however, that all actors, barring Grace Hutt, did slip up on lines on the night I saw the performance, and all actors performed woodenly in places, which does, of course, subtract from engagement.
This stagnancy was also apparent in the decor and lighting. The set, comprising a sofa, two tables and an airing horse, was very static; the lighting state never changed; and there were no defined transitions between scenes, nor music or sound. All of this is, of course, acceptable but causes the energy of the play to rest solely and heavily upon the characters. If they too lack progression and dynamism, there is a big problem.
I shall end on one comment: plays take flight from the text; if the text is fallible, the play has no chance.