I have never (yet) seen a bad show in the Pleasance Zoo’s Monkey House: either the Zoo knows how to pick ’em or else some rare quality in the atmosphere down here always puts me in an amiable, rather soft-headed mood. “Bygone,” the latest from Caligula’s Alibi Theatre, is written by Johnnie Bayfield and directed by Will Cowell. The play inevitably invites comparisons with Bruce Robinson’s Withnail and I, but imagine that Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” was created by Eddy Izzard and you might get a better picture of “Bygone.” Admittedly, if “Endgame” was rewritten by any other writer it could not fail to be an improvement.
Brandy (Bayfield) and Tynan (Russell Chadwick) reside in a tumbledown mansion. The world has been blotted out by some devastating disaster, or otherwise these two recluses are so dotty that they have only convinced themselves that the world has ended. They seem to remain mildly obsessed by the real or remembered presence of doggers near to their home. They subsist entirely on tinned food and they play together like children. Their interaction at times authentically captures the volatility of children’s play; they can alter within a flick of the head from giddy affection to madcap fantasy to alarming, whimsical spitefulness.
“You flimsy fickle pickled twat!” “Bygone” is saved by its determination to match the flowery writing at every point with energetic physicality on stage. There appears to be rubbish strewn aimlessly everywhere, but one gradually gathers that both actors know exactly where every tin can is lying at any given moment. They have only a single sock between them and yet their bare feet often land perilously close to jagged edges. This production’s health-and-safety officer must lie awake at night grinding his teeth. It’s an intimate venue but this play even smells convincing – like an ancient sweat-stained armchair.
There is some unexpected plotting and an exceedingly dapper fox also makes an appearance. “Bygone” at times risks growing trivial and clownish, and the play works best when we begin to wonder uneasily whether we are laughing at the inmates of Bedlam. Sometimes the sparkle of Brandon’s lunacy fades and we get a keen sense of the demented anguish which runs underneath his character. I was most satisfied with this play when it was less interested in being funny: there are some eerie scenes, complete with Throbbing Gristle murk, in which the pair re-enact memories of their former loved ones. Bygones are hardly bygones; aside from the tinned pineapple, they are all that these characters have left.