Review: Trying It On (Birmingham Rep)

David Edgar makes his professional stage debut in this one-man show

David Edgar
David Edgar
© Arnim Friess

David Edgar is a well-published playwright and author whose works include Pentecost and Albert Speer and whose stage adaptations include Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby and A Christmas Carol and Julian Barnes' Arthur and George. After 50 years of theatre though, the Birmingham-based playwright turns the spotlight on himself in Trying It On.

A student activist at the age of 20, Edgar's piece asks the intriguing question – how would our younger and possibly more idealistic selves feel on meeting our older selves? Now 70, Edgar looks back over his life, talks with his younger self and investigates how and why he has changed.

In doing so, he also features interviews with other people from his past – fellow students, writers and intellectuals – and explores how they too may have altered their perspective over the years.

Designer Frankie Bradshaw recreates Edgar's office complete with filing cabinets and boxes into which the writer delves to pull out magazines and manifestoes from his past.

Largely a monologue and read from a screen behind the audience, Edgar occasionally steps out of the show to ask audience members for their opinions, views and outlooks. At The Rep, Trying It On is performed in the smaller Door theatre space which also helps to create that sense of involvement in the show and a shared journey. Trying It On is the first time Edgar has taken centre stage as a performer but he appears comfortable in the role, jovial with the audience and wry in his delivery.

Throughout the 90-minute production, he questions whether the pensioner sold out the student, whether life and circumstances forced personal change or whether he and his generation did, in fact, achieve what they set out to do. He does so with a dry sense of humour and is self-deprecating at his own decisions while also questioning of others.

But at times Trying It On does feel a little more like a political lecture than an entertaining piece of theatre. Debates over whether feminism was a distraction from the class struggle and whether pacifism during the Vietnam War was the same as supporting a side can themselves feel like a distraction from the central quandary of why we change as we age.

Presented by Warwick Arts Centre and China Plate and directed by Christopher Haydon, Trying It On is certainly a different form of theatre and shows us a very human side to Edgar. His own self-doubt and openness around his limitations make the audience forgiving when he sometimes slips into diatribe. And at its heart, Trying It On challenges us all to question our beliefs, how they originate, how they are influenced by external factors and whether age really does mellow us.