Thursday, November 26, 2015

'Man and Superfan' at Theatre N16, 25th November 2015

John Lennon's murderer, Mark David Chapman is and was a pathetic creature. Even worse, he's a boring one. Amongst crazed killers his motivations are muddles, his influences misread and his justifications fake as hell. Man and Superfan, sets out to find out what was going on under his skin, asking "what was life like for Chapman before he pulled the trigger?

Predictably, the answer is "not much". Taking place over the course of an awkward evening at home, we meet Chapman (Pete Darwent), his wife Gloria (Heidi Goldsmith), sister Susan (Joanna Rosenfeld) and her new boyfriend (Alex Boxall). Chapman on edge, frequently 'dropping out' of conversations to give sweatily psychotic asides to the audience. Tensions rise as the new boyfriend gets under Chapman's skin, eventually nudging him towards his fateful decision to kill John Lennon.

The background to one of the most shocking murders of the 20th century should be at least morbidly interesting, but Man and Superfan isn't. Partly this is because Chapman is a straightforwardly mentally ill man with no logic to his delusions - he rails against Lennon for engaging in self publicity, then a couple of minutes later criticises him for withdrawing from limelight to raise his son. Some effort goes into Chapman's religious fetishisation of Lennon; treating his albums as holy relics, reciting Beatles trivia as prayer and condemning his "bigger than Jesus" statement. But that peters out as the play switches gears to Catcher in the Rye - ending up with a tangled pile of disconnected pop culture loose ends.

An ideal study of Chapman would bind these disparate fixations together, giving us a glimpse into the world through his eyes. It's perhaps impossible to get an audience to empathise with the man, but we can at least attempt to understand his thought processes. Man and Superfan doesn't even come close, hamstrung by both clunky writing and a two-dimensional lead performance.

There isn't much to say about Darwent's performance other than the straightforward observation that it isn't very good. The psychotic tics he imbues Chapman with are creaky cliches - adding up to a character that's not just unconvincing as a portrayal of a historical figure, but unconvincing as a human being in general. I'll grant that he's not exactly helped by having to deliver dialogue that ranges from clunky to weirdly anachronistic, but even so his performance fails to make the case that Chapman is worthy of dramatic interest.

The rest of the cast are similarly lost in the dramatic doldrums, with the brief exception of Alex Boxall who manages to dredge up some deep-buried spark of life for a couple of minutes. But nobody is served well by staging that requires everyone to sit around a dining table for 99% of the run-time, and the generally paper-thin characterisation.

Man and Superfan feels like a first draft that probably shouldn't have made it to the stage at all. As drama it's flatly played and dully blocked, as intellectual and historical exercise it's half-baked. One to skip.

Man and Superfan is at Theatre N16, above The Bedford Pub, Balham until 26th November. Tickets here.

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