Funny how some plays can disappear completely and take awhile to be found . When Fin Kennedy won the John Whiting award for this work not one theatre had responded to its open submission, only after the work won was it subsequently picked up and performed in Sheffield, before promptly vanishing again. Which makes Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s rediscovery of it highly satisfying. For it confirms a work that in a different timeline, could, indeed should, have been a modern classic. It casts a beady suspicious eye on the modern world and finds it lacking. Work hard and play hard might be the mantra us millennials have had lectured into us since a young age but Kennedy’s work screams this rule may not be all its cracked up to be. Yet even if all have had a moment a daydream about what it would be like to just disappear and start again flutters into being, the thesis here is stark. A life without a past, without human connection is a life destined for the scrap heap.
On the one level the work is an identity theft thriller as city boy Charlie tires of his life of too much work and too much substance and begins to dream of a new life as drifter Adam. Yet its also more spiritual than that, he begins the play being pulled on in a gurney. He talks to a gatekeeper- of TFL Lost Property or a pearly gate? A pathologist wants to give him her number to talk, she’s never had a patient like him before. Moments of his life are played out in heightened states, the party with a Made In Chelsea set, the meeting with American investors, the morning tube crush. It weaves in and out of different realities, different time lines, David Lynch Twin Peaks crossed with Phoebe Wallace Bridge’s Crashing. It starts opaque and ends up gut-punching you. Imagery is as important as word, James Schofield Charlie/Adam always one step removed from an interchangeable fluid ensemble, a man lost in a world that doesn’t have the time nor inclination to hold him close.
Kennedy isn’t a complete nihilist, there are little rays of hope dangle dto remind its to seize onto life. Its there in the kindness of the vengeful dealer who instead of breaking his legs offers him a coat and his shoes when he finds him trembling alone in his pants; it is there in the advice of Max Dinnen’s expert fraudster Mike, who states life isn’t a series of fireworks and explosions but is about seizing and appreciating the little moments. Life isn’t experienced in one long narrative-that comes later- but in a series of encounters, experiences and moments that make up a whole.
It’s always an exciting time witnessing the graduating class of BOVTS take on their first public performances. The class of ’18 give detailed-monstrous, humorous,sympathetic- charactertures that bleed together to form a snapshot of a society that looks straight through a man floundering and continues about their day. Schofield is a sympathetic presence, an empty soul who gradually strips himself bare of everything until he is a man trembling on the street, alone and forgotten. If the ensemble play surface snapshot instead of soul its there to service Jenny Stephens fluid, exciting production and Kennedy’s dynamic text. There are telling contributions in the ensemble from amongst others Denning, Anna Munden as the inquisitive pathologist, Charlie Suff doubling as the lost property man and Charlotte Wyatt as a haughty Sloane and market stall holder.
If Kennedy writes powerfully about a disappearing protagonist its a shame that the play has befallen a similar route. Its to the credit of the school that they have given it a chance to be rediscovered. There is always a sliver of hope. Nothing is completely unrecognised or forgotten.
How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found is playing at The Station, Bristol until 17 November