The Pub Corner Poets’ Sad Little Man takes a formula and inverts it. It’s a stand-up tragedy act. Lee stands at a mic, a spotlight on him, but instead of some generic observational comedy about the merits of cat videos on youtube, he wades through his expectations of life and his feelings of upheaval. He revisits a relationship and grapples with a trauma that strikes at the centre of his grief.
The tag line, ‘Stop me if you’ve heard this one before’, implies the beginning of a joke, but also acts like a reflective mirror on Josh Overton’s script. We have heard this one before: the beginning story about two people growing old together, or the story of a young man whose relationship is cut short. But the line, although overly repeated, hints at the cyclical process of experiencing grief, and that while these stories are often told, their meaning is rarely fathomed or made clear.
Sad Little Man makes use of many forms of storytelling, including movement, projections and poetry. Overton’s script is heavy and weary, and while its poetry is occasionally resonant, it relies a little too much on repetitive sequences to instill meaning. The tone is slightly unvaried and stagnant, with sounds of running water echoing throughout the entire piece, a bathtub sitting centrestage.
The best parts are the ones where there is a shift in mood and perspective. The flirtatious texting sequence between Lee (Oliver Strong) and Emily (Danielle Harris) is craftily displayed on the projection screen behind, the textual conversation a dynamic contrast to the two actors sitting on opposite ends of the room. It’s also one of the few moments we get a sense of Emily, Lee’s lover, who – while being merely an image in Lee’s mind – is disappointingly never given a chance to tell her story.
Part of the challenge with Sad Little Man is that it is a tragedy entirely performed in Lee’s mind. While both Harris and Strong are diligent and passionate in their performances, their characterisations are restricted by the boundaries of their environment. With such a clever reversal of a known genre, the stand-up comedy routine, it’s surprising that there is less play within that genre, or more of a sense of theatrical construction. It foregoes the device and instead becomes an earnest story from Lee, which is at times laboured and directionless. Sad Little Man churns and swirls, and is in places touching, but it requires a stronger current to keep it moving.
Sad Little Man was performed as part of Incoming Festival 2017. Click here for more details.