If you go and see Garry Starr Performs Everything there is every chance you will make an appearance onstage. There is so much audience participation in his show that at times it feels more like a workshop than a performance. Upwards of ten people in the audience were invited to either perform, provide musical accompaniment, or kiss Garry on the face during the show I saw.
Garry Starr is a character performed by Damien Warren-Smith, an actor with a huge range of skills, many of which we see here. His biggest asset being his massive likeability factor, which is why so many audience members were so keen to participate.
Following a supposedly bitter parting of the ways with his former employers, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Garry has mounted this solo show in order to save theatre. Because let’s face it, it’s dead. His response is to perform as many different forms of theatre as is humanly possible in one hour, thus bringing it back to life.
Bedecked in a rakish leather doublet and Elizabethan ruff, he sets off by rattling through Hamlet’s rogue-and-peasant-slave speech against the clock, pausing only to properly enunciate the key phrases.
I saw Damien give his Dane in Lancaster some years ago, and thought he was good then, but it’s even better in miniature, getting through the speech in not much more than a minute.
The evening takes in Pinter, butoh, melodrama, and cirque nouveau but the best bit comes when he intones a well-known pop song in the form of a tragic, Shakespearean monologue, successfully legitimising Britney as high art.
Damien is a really talented performer, so much so that the show operates almost as an audition for the actor himself. He is adept at mask, clown, and circus, as well as proving his knowledge of more rarefied dramatic texts – despite his character’s frequent malapropisms.
There is a sense, however, that even this performance is just another string to the actor’s bow. This is compounded when Garry enters a trance like state whilst embodying a character in half-mask, and takes all his clothes off. Supposedly it was the fault of the mask who took control of his body, but it feels a little bit like showing off.
It’s a bit dissatisfying that the Garry Starr persona is not fully realised to the level of a whole character. He doesn’t have definitive characteristics that are distinct from the actor, or a strong enough need beyond the rather vague and impersonal desire ‘to save theatre’. Although he is funny, gregarious, and great to watch, the show might have benefitted from a clearer focus on one element of Damien’s skill set, interrogated to a deeper level, rather than showcasing the wide gamut of his talent.
Garry Starr Performs Everything is on at Underbelly until 26 August 2018. Click here for more information.