C Soco, David Gieselmann, Diabetes, Diabetic Coma, Dinner party, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Francesca Wilding, Hypoglycaemia, Mr Kolpert, Oliver Lavery, Party, Roseanna Frascona, The New Symposium, Theatre Review, Timothy Allsop
[The following contains mild spoilers.]
Forget everything that you have been told about David Gieselmann’s “Mr Kolpert.” The New Symposium, who are currently performing this play at C Soco, imagine that it, “begs the question of how far some people will go to feel human in an age of numb conformity,” whilst the director tells us that the play’s “ultimate force… [is] the tragedy of the human condition.” Let us put aside the quibble that to think of the human condition as tragic is to misunderstand the whole of humanity. The List advertises “Mr Kolpert” as a “hilariously anarchic black comedy,” but this apparently madcap, Kafkaesque nightmare is actually underpinned by a very clear and comprehensive explanation.
In foremostly dealing with a medical condition rather than the human condition, “Mr Kolpert” very accurately observes a particular sort of psychosis which is generated by hypoglycaemia. The play is ultimately centred around the perspective of the architect Bastian (Timothy Allsop), who attends an increasingly sinister dinner party with his wife Edith (Francesca Wilding). Upon their arrival, Bastian accepts spirits rather than the high-energy fruit juice which is offered to his wife. The joker hosts order pizzas instead of cooking for themselves, and as pizza contains a massive amount of carbohydrate, Bastian injects himself with an equally massive dose of insulin. But the pizza goes astray and Bastian has nothing to fill the hole. He demolishes some sort of modest snack and takes a wild bite out of an apple, but he remains in dire need of carbs.
One can almost hear the tiny cold voice in the back of his head which is steadily repeating, “You must eat. You must eat.” With a coma on the horizon, Bastian scrambles to retreat with desperation and paranoia. He is seemingly charged with the animal energy of a caveman hunting for meat, but at the same time his brain is too befuddled to concentrate on his mission. His behaviour may seem implausible, but any first-aider who has tried to feed glucose to an incoherent diabetic will recognise the stubborn refusal to acknowledge bodily emergency and the inability to respond to food which is readily to hand. Bastian is too caught up in a paranoid surge for survival to think clearly enough to save himself.
Throughout the play, a table of fruit juice looms over the landscape like a waiting home, but Bastian focuses instead on the corresponding shadow of Mr Kolpert’s fearful corpse, which is most likely brought to life only by his paranoia. Aside from their unfunny, inconsequential joke at the beginning of the party, the boorish menace of the hosts Ralf and Sarah is also easily attributable to Bastian’s paranoia. Two thirds of our way through the play and Bastian has disintegrated beyond hope. From now on, the events of the play can be dismissed as hallucinations. But is there anything more to this story than a medical case study – a clinical exercise in producing an accurate account of a very specific and often poorly understood experience?
They even nail the tiniest details, such as Bastian’s sudden need to piss as the darkness encroaches. Although his body must retain its dwindling stock of sugar, his bladder is weakening. On the aesthetic front, this production achieves a gripping sense of hysteria, but Bastian always remains visibly distressed and this negates the play’s appearance of humour. Timothy Allsop’s performance is superbly judged and executed, whilst Oliver Lavery and Roseanna Frascona are suitably ghastly as the fiendishly smug middle-class hosts. I was not surprised by the story’s most significant revelation, although the chap involved should be commended. A single cough could have jeopardised the whole show.
I cannot objectively account for “Mr Kolpert.” I can imagine recommending it to friends, but to sufferers of diabetes it hits a deep, jarring chord, recalling some of the darkest and most embarrassing experiences to result from this condition.