This is the second time that I’ve seen Fin Kennedy’s 2006 play “How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found” (the first concerned the Liverpool University Drama Society’s production in 2012) and the second time that a talented cast have tried to reconcile me to it. UCLU Runaground are elsewhere responsible for the impressive original drama “Fearnot Wood” and the venue for “How to Disappear” is the superb Pleasance Zoo, so this production was awarded the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, this play is still its same old self, and as frustrating as it is enjoyable. All of the brilliant detail somehow does not add up properly and the total is short. Every scene is fun and yet as an entirety, this remains a protracted, exhaustive play. If “How to Disappear” describes the rebirth of the corporate cokehead Charlie Hunt, the action on stage is admittedly as gruelling as labour.
A picaresque is meant to be laborious, but in a good way and with the hero travelling merrily all around society. Kennedy simply does not have the judgement to compose a picaresque; he thinks that we should take an interest in the hero, when the hero is only an input or a function. We are inundated with helpful clues about how to interpret Charlie’s story: is he genuinely dead, or has he transcended his identity, or is he on some drug-fuelled bender? The uncertainty howls and rattles its chains and demands that you engage, rather than murmuring with sweet subtlety.
I can understand why a cast would want to take on this play. There are dramatic soliloquies, powerful confrontations, and some sharp comic scenes. We are able to keep up with Karan Gill as Charlie, and he leads us, like an efficient personal trainer on a marathon, with inexhaustible energy (although he bears a disconcerting, no doubt accidental, resemblance to Ed Miliband, with the same hair and suit and hangdog wretchedness). Howard Horner is equally good as Charlie’s criminal mentor. But no amount of acting can compensate for a failure to take a pair of scissors to the script. Whole scenes could have been ripped out of this play without it missing a beat. Incidentally, I might be giving the impression that this play is long, but it lasts barely over an hour. It is not long – just laborious – and perhaps if they squeezed it into half an hour, it would seem like a normal-length play.
Oh, but there is not going to be a third time…