Alistair McDowall’s Captain Amazing is about a part-time super hero who, between defeating evil villains and taking shifts at B&Q, has to help raise his inquisitive daughter, Emily. It features a stand-out performance from Mark Weinman and won hearts and stars during last year’s Edinburgh fringe, yet something about it feels a little undercooked.
It’s charming enough. Mark – aka Captain Amazing – is a laconic, unassuming sort of bloke who happens to walk around all day wearing a cape. When his girlfriend gets pregnant and they have a daughter, he finds his life somewhat transformed, and now has to be a story-telling, crime-fighting superhero, constantly on hand to look after his daughter, answer her questions and make sure she goes to bed at the right time.
Weinman’s performance, however, is nothing short of spectacular. Watching him jump from character to character mid-scene – often mid-sentence – is a joy. It’s protean. One second he’s contorting his face and gait to become Evil Man, the next he’s a wide-eyed little girl or a cocky estate agent, or girl in a nightclub, or Batman, the bragging billionaire who – as Captain Amazing, Spiderman and Superman all know – isn’t a real superhero at all.
The scenes are helpfully signposted by Rebecca Glover’s fantastic illustrations, which are projected from two screens at the back of the stage. Childishly scribbly, the pictures are a kid’s drawings of the scenes, helping the audience pick out the location and number of characters involved in a particular exchange. The way these pictures are knitted together is less impressive though, relying on rather naff comic book style text boxes (‘suddenly’; ‘meanwhile’) and the like. The whole thing looks like it’s been put together on PowerPoint. The set and sound design is also pretty lacklustre; in the roomy upstairs space at Soho Theatre, a little more AV panache might have helped up the energy levels.
But what really undoes Captain Amazing is the lack of drive at the beginning of the play. While it’s true that once things get going, the play livens up, the tragic denouement, which is heartfelt and all too sadly commonplace, is rather predictable and the lack of cathartic belly-laughs becomes a real issue: without a measure of light in the darkness, the production comes perilously close to being gloomy.
Captain Amazing is superbly acted, tightly and sensitively written, yet whether it ever quite fulfils its promise is another question. It’s a good show, certainly, but not quite the amazing show I’d hoped.
Captain Amazing is part of the Soho Solo season at Soho Theatre.
Spielberg, snakes and super powers: Exeunt’s interview with Alistair McDowall.