Somewhere Beneath It All, A Small Fire Burns Still is a tricky play to review. I can’t explain why I liked it so much without spoiling one or two major surprises for you.
What I can tell you is that it was specially written for Canadian comedian-turned-actor Phil Nichol by Dave Florez, a talented graduate of the Royal Court’s Young Writers’ Programme. Florez blends Nichol’s personal facts and fictions in a perfect showcase for this engaging performer’s talents.
We first meet Nichol’s Kevin in a London café, where he’s ogling the Lithuanian waitress and trying to pluck up the courage to ask her out for a dirty weekend in Reading. Kevin, in broad Scottish accent, talks a good internal talk, free-wheeling and abrasive, veering into vulgar. But he clams up when the moment comes, and passes. It’s safe to assume he’s just a delusional pervert.
Or maybe not. Just when you think you know where this fairly conventional monologue is going, Nichol and Florez smash through the fourth wall to leave you wondering what exactly is “real” about what you’ve witnessed. Clever stuff and expertly executed in Hannah Eidinow’s production.
This is one of the first full-length pieces of new writing from the Comedians Theatre Company, which was co-founded by Nichol in 2005 and has racked up annual Fringe successes with revivals such as Talk Radio, True West and Breaker Morant. I hope it’s not their last.