3 stars ***
Spotlites @ The Merchant’s Hall (Venue 278)
LIKE ANYONE visiting a psychologist for help with emotional or mental problems, Martin only has an hour or so to explain how he reached this point. Martin is a gifted dancer, a gay man living in London, a lively, self-mocking character who likes to put up a cheerful and flamboyant front. Yet he cannot sleep; and as he reluctantly opens up to his unseen counsellor, we begin to catch glimpses of a life that began amid the sectarian conflict of 1970’s Belfast, that brought Martin and his family to a safe house in England, and that has been shaped at so many levels by the constant threat of violence – sectarian, homophobic, domestic – that Martin barely knows, at the deepest level, how to relate to people without letting them abuse him.
This is the basic situation that inspires Kat Woods’s new monologue, based on a real-life story, and performed with terrific, febrile energy and feeling by Declan Perring. With the audience essentially playing the role of the silent psychologist, Martin jokes, prevaricates, narrates, and even occasionally sings and dances, as he tries to tell his story while avoiding a confrontation with the terrible pain it implies. It’s a very simple idea for solo play; but the young team from the Purple Penguin company work it out with impressive skill and intensity, tackling some familiar themes of abuse, self-hatred and emotional fragility from a distinctive angle, and creating a memorable and painfully vulnerable character in the process.