The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester; Friday 17th September, 2021
He is George Massey. He is 27 years old. And here, on stage, he is slowly sinking further and further into a catastrophic crisis that will surely consume him completely.
The world in which we find George is a bleak one. An unmade bed, a bottle of beer, a pot noodle – the visual spectacle immediately suggests the life of a lazy student, or just a ‘typical’, carefree young man who needs to tidy up, a guy who should maybe show a bit of pride even though it’s just a rented room in a shared house.
No wonder he’s not having much luck with women, imagine bringing them back to this mess?
But hasn’t everyone, at some point or other, been drawn by the temptation of kicking back and accepting the cooling relaxation that lethargic untidiness delivers??
Perhaps he’s revelling in the reassuring comfort of his grotty bedroom existence: it’s a safe space; a personalised nest; he can’t stoop much lower; and maybe it’s the perfect, low-level springboard that may eventually allow for more concentrated efforts to leap forward and strive for much greater things?
i am george massey is a deep and complicated theatrical journey that fuses a powerful monologue with some excellent visual, audio and physical effects.
At an hour-and-a-half it feels too long for the content that is eventually delivered. And that over-stretching specifically occurs during the first half of the show: George starts as a pleasant and friendly sort of character – one that cracks plenty of good jokes and who seems to have no trouble in effortlessly building a harmonious understanding with the audience.
The opening pace is relatively slow and comprised of disparate though perfectly relevant scene-setting anecdotes – it’s all useful background material but, in hindsight, a lot of it feels unnecessary. In fact, it veers dangerously close to the dreaded radio-play-recital predicament that can so badly affect staged monologues with insufficient audio or visual inputs.
But thankfully that never happens thanks to a second half that makes copious use of lighting effects, a well-placed and mixed soundtrack, and a sudden switch in delivery to a far more abstract physicalism which seems to far more pleasingly suit the content being delivered. The entertainment spectacle comes across strongest in the fast-paced physicalised expression of George’s developing mania.
Much of what is raised by this show is left unexplored, perhaps deliberately so. We see the building of a fiendishly complex ecosystem surrounding George, yet no single aspect of his condition is ever fully explained or brought close to a position of reasonable understanding.
As the end of the performance nears, the audience gets a much better sense of how solitude itself (both physical and mental) seems to be harming him: major characters in his life are mentioned and woven in to his story, but they are all literally missing on stage, it’s just George we see, there simply isn’t any compelling force that would seem capable of arresting his slide into what appears to be a complex, tangled and knotted confusion of mental health breakdown and social withdrawal.
The radicalisation of George is both sudden and relatively extreme. To see a character go from being mostly affable and jovial to downright highly offensive is shocking. In hindsight that transformation feels a little unexplored, there seems to have been a rage sitting deep within this individual, but why?
None of this is particularly bad as such – far from it. On stage, Stephen Dee delivers a breathtaking solo performance of his own writing as he cracks open a multitude of perplexing mysteries which leave the audience bereft of closure or explanation. Instead we are mired in even greater intrigue than when it began – an impressive feat for a debut production.