Actor Thomas Pickles’ monologue Dead Party Animals – winner of the inaugural Adrian Pagan Award for new work from non-writing professionals in theatre – casts light on club-land’s darker aspects – the carpets sticky with WKD, the sambuca-fuelled teenagers, the Lynx-soaked boys out on the pull – while painting a sympathetic picture of young people in the process of discovering their sexual and social identities. It tells an important story about the point at which adolescent urges meet adult responsibilities in an environment awash with drink and bravado.
Pickles, as both writer and performer, draws the audience into the darkness of a boozy club, where the nameless protagonist is out on another wild night out with his best friends. Between hallucinatory fugues and foul-mouthed banter we discover much about the narrator’s loves and puerile sexuality, probing the border between lust and something more tragic.
Pickles performs his monologue with verve and an intense physicality. He demands the audience’s attention, holding individual people’s eyes as he glares, pleads and swaggers. It’s an astonishingly emotional and energetic performance, undoubtedly heightened by Pickles’ connection to the material as its writer.
He’s a sharp storyteller too, maintaining dramatic tension while dancing back and forth in time and switching between internal monologue, role-playing and narration. For a writer who clearly loves word-play the risk of slipping into poetic excess could have been an issue. But although his writing is full of colourful metaphors and similes, he never fails to convince as a bright but boisterous teen, obsessed with a girl whose Facebook statuses are ‘only pixels, but proper pretty’ and whose legs are ‘as long as a queue at Primark’.
The play is all good, pre-hangover fun until a skeletal rams charges in and everything gets a little odd. Are we seeing the world through the narrator’s eyes, or peering into his psyche? Pickles keeps us guessing, occasionally creating an almost Lynchian feeling of the surreal (enhanced by sound designer Philip Matejtschuk’s unsettling soundscape). It’s in these darker moments that we see the limits of hedonism, and the consequences of self-obsession.