Council worker David (solo performer and writer Gulliver Bell) lives a small life. He is so socially inept his idea of a chat-up line is to invite a colleague to watch Genesis of the Daleks. In an effort to prove his life is bigger on the inside than the outside, he begins to study signals from space – with unexpected results.
Although marketed as part of a festival celebrating fifty years of Doctor Who, The Pyramids of Margate has a more universal appeal. It manages the rare feat of pleasing fans of the show whilst also being of interest to the more general theatregoer. It contains enough in-jokes about and opinions on The Doctor to satisfy fans of the show. But Bell's play is a gentle reminiscence on childhood pleasures now lost and a moving examination of a deeply lonely individual trying to prove his own worth – to himself if no-one else.
Solo performances give rise to all sorts of potential problems. They can end up as straightforward recitations or result in the actor desperately running around trying to sustain audience interest. Bell is certainly a very physical performer, but his clumsy antics all serve to tell the story. Bouncing around the stage like an eager puppy, he brings out David's unconscious, but very real, need for company and affection. Bell's sensitive interpretation does not conceal the character's more irritating habits, but makes clear also the deep sense of loss that he is struggling to fill.
The Pyramids of Margate is a very funny if bittersweet play, yet there is an abrupt change of tone at the conclusion. Having successfully maintained the delicate balance between comedy and tragedy throughout the play, Bell opts for a feelgood conclusion complete with a guest appearance by Tom Baker's version of The Doctor. You can't blame Bell for preferring a happy ending, whilst at the same time wondering if a darker, more challenging version might have been even more satisfying.
Who at Fifty continues at the Lass O'Gowrie until 30 November.
- Dave Cunningham