What Goes Up has so much promise, but completely fails to deliver. The plot is witty enough in itself; 14-year-old Adam is taken on a camping trip with his mum and her “male friend” Bernard. He hasn’t met Bernard before, and is confused as to why he’s even there. Thus ensues teenage strops and rebellion.
The actor playing Adam (cast lists appear to be unavailable) seems to be in his early twenties, and significantly older than the actress playing his mother. If he performed competently then perhaps it wouldn’t be such a problem, but he has no comic timing, the most irritating mannerisms, and delivers lines that are surely meant to be sarcastic and ‘teenaged’ as out-and-out insults, causing any character comedy to fall flat. The flaw in his delivery destroys any possibility of comedy from the early promise of wit in the script by Richard O’Brien, and removes the believability from the piece completely.
The play soon reveals its subject matter, which appears to be mental illness or learning difficulties of some kind; Bernard has got “something wrong” with him anyway. The problem is that nobody in the theatre seems to have a clue what this “something” actually is. O’Brien explained to me after the performance that “most people we’ve spoken to think the symptoms point to an onset of Dementia”. Frankly, if the playwright and director isn’t sure what he’s trying to portray, then how can this performance be anything other than a clumsy mess?
The writing is often downright insulting in its portrayal of Bernard, causing raucous laughs from the less mature members of the audience when he does or says ‘something silly’, or gets confused. This is offensive, not handled sensitively, and only gets cheap laughs at best. (By the end, even the crude moments were falling flat.) Bernard is portrayed as a fool, and that’s not a tasteful way of dealing with Dementia (if that’s indeed what they are trying to deal with – it’s impossible to know). It’s crude and demeaning, and makes this already appalling production even worse.
The dialogue is packed full of random bouts of swearing from all the characters, giving no progression or build up prior to them, and generally feels completely unrealistic. The plot twists become predictable and annoying, and the characters are unlikeable and badly written.
The actress playing Bliss, whom Adam attempts to sleep with part way through (for no apparent reason), is the only positive thing in the show. She shows a real spark and energy in her performance, even though the character is written with no skill whatsoever.
On the production side, the show is filled with blackouts that seem completely unnecessary, and the transitions are managed very badly. There are moments where I came close to audibly groaning in agony at having stayed out past 11pm to see this useless production of an appalling play.
I did, however, quite like the turf that was used as grass.
- Chris Wheeler