Man, some say, is the only animal who can act, and what a nasty piece of work that makes him. At least it does for Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari of the Shunt collective, who hold both actors and acting in almost absolute contempt.
They’re shown as posturing and pretentious; irresponsible, attention-seeking children. Their craft is ridiculed for its inherent absurdity. At times, actors are dismissed as entirely redundant. Theatre can survive without them. Barrett stands behind a gauze, running the gamut of human emotion on command. He eats a lemon. He sets fire to his trousers. He takes his trousers off. ‘Look at his face,’ commands a voice, ‘LOOK AT HIS FACE’. He looks pathetic, smiling tentatively through the shame. It’s a savage and unremitting attack without a split-second of sympathy.
Gorgeously raucous in design and performed with disjointed stop-motion awkwardness, The One Man Show is nonetheless let down by mean-spiritedness. The ground covered is too well-trodden to get away with such vitriol, which comes dangerously close to smugness. Such is its certainty that you end up feeling sorry for The Actor, wanting to champion the potency of pretence.
In fact, the only flicker of humility comes in its final moment. Barrett leaves the stage, but his shadow remains behind, imprinted, but fading, on the back wall. For all The Actor’s irritating awfulness and wrong-headed egotism, we miss him when he’s gone.