Arcola’s Studio 2, tucked away around the back of the East London venue, is an ideal space for this claustrophobic comic tragedy that explores a young man’s battle with his self image, self confidence and a nervous foray into the gay scene in Hull.
It is a remarkable piece of writing, wry, witty and surreal; the debut play of Hull-based playwright Tom Wells, who, two years after attending the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s 'So You Want to be a Writer?’ course, and a year on attachment with Paine’s Plough, has created this powerfully poignant piece of theatre.
The play is set in the young man’s heavily pregnant sister’s sitting room in Hull, which is dominated by a large sofa that is the pride and joy of her partner Mark. Stitch, the young man in question, has decided to hit the gay scene , or rather "dip his toe in", with Mark’s friend Dave, who works at the local aquarium. On a trip there with his young nephew however, he ends up with more than he bargained for.
The couple return home to find Stitch flatly refusing to let anyone into the loo, even pregnant Liz, who is dying for a pee. The reason? He has stolen a baby penguin and hidden it in the shower! Why? “It was like looking in a mirror – there it was, it was smaller than the others, a bit scruffy looking, a bit – dim. Like, just being there was taking a lot of effort.” As the title of the play says, Me, As a Penguin.
Ian Bonar’s remarkable performance as Stitch is heart-wrenching, engaging and entertaining; a shy tortured soul striving for recognition and acceptance in a world that is shallow and sordid. His encounter with Daniel Abelson’s deftly defined slob Dave turns out to an embarrassing mistake. Samantha Power lives up to her name as the strong, fiery, yet caring older sister whose ultimatum of getting a new sofa before the baby arrives causes friction with her partner Mark, played with control and conviction by John Catterall.
Director Chris Hill has created a taut piece of theatre that allows each of the characters to flourish in their own space and time, and the play is well paced and holds our attention to the end. This closely observed, brilliantly acted and directed piece deserves a wider audience; Tom Wells is a name to watch.
- Dave Jordan