, , , , , , , , , ,

I returned to the Radisson Hotel last night to watch the Liverpool University Drama Society’s latest play, “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found.” It starts out spooky. Figures in torchlight exchange scraps of urban legend – accounts of itinerant outsiders who have dropped quietly out of life, leaving behind phones that ring in the dead of night and forlornly-attended state funerals. We make the acquaintance of the advertising yuppie Charlie Hunt (Martin Poile), who has fainted on the Underground. He is reviving in Lost Property, where an Underground employee (Luke Barton) remarks in passing that the hundreds of mobile phones under his supervision sometimes all go off at once. Even creepier, Charlie cannot seem to let go of his mother’s ashes and he is now carrying the urn to work.

From spooky we move to funny. At the marketing offices where Charlie works, the “corporate doctor” (Helen Goaley) tells Charlie to recover his spirits in the firm’s Zen garden. We meet Charlie’s mincing clients and ghastly colleagues. Yet from funny we move to scary. Charlie has taken a lot of bad drugs and he is growing ever more claustrophobic in his own skin. As Charlie, Martin Poile is suddenly the epitome of nausea. Although lanky and square jawed, he is shivering like a leaf, and shrill with paranoid exhilaration. You could not watch this performance with even a mild hangover – you would seriously start to freak out.

From scary we move to something else, and this is the problem with “How to Disappear” – it is rather like a porn movie in which the two lovers do eighty different things on the same bed. This is a good metaphor for an aimless, undisciplined performance because, of course, nobody would ever need to watch more than ten minutes of such a movie. As a sort of Kafkaesque picaresque, in which we are never allowed to settle with the scenes and characters that we already have, “How to Disappear” is fine so long as the play is content to merely evoke atmosphere or indulge in the quirky. It begins to suffer once it has acquired a plot.

The cast, incidentally, get off Scott free. “How to Disappear” was not written in house and it has been knocking around since 2006, the work of the fashionable social-realist playwright Fin Kennedy. With a less energetic and versatile cast, this production could have become a great trial for the poor audience, but as it stands, the cast invest enough in the play to sustain the audience through most of it. It is initially very compelling, and I would truly desire to spare you the crack about them renaming it, “How to Disappoint.” The play cannot seem to end itself and it tries out about ten different endings, all of which turn out to be equally valid.

Last year, Tychy observed Claire Burlington’s exasperation at the extensive abridgement of her play “Nourish.” It may take a brave production to mess with an original script, but LUDS could have brought a superb play to the Fringe if they had reconciled “How to Disappear” with a bit of editorial discipline.