Bits of Me Are Falling Apart is a disappointing one-hander about the moment at which you realise you have more past laid out behind you than future stretched out in front. In other words: middle age. A worry as yet uncontemplated by the twenty- and thirty-somethings who usually frequent the Soho Theatre. Adapted from William Leith’s memoir of the same name, the play is loosely based around a day in the life of William – a Peter Pan figure full of regrets – who is on a trip to see his son, Billy, who lives with William’s ex-partner. While he walks, he talks, and digresses and pontificates and finally ends up back where he started: at his office, which is also his house, because his relationship fell apart.
Adrian Edmondson (who, age depending, you may recognise from The Young Ones or as Count Rostov from War and Peace) takes the role of the self-confessed waster, self-diagnosed alcoholic and impoverished middle-aged writer on the brink of a mid-life crisis. If he were younger, it would be funny. Instead it is bleak; King Lear bleak. Indeed, at one point Edmondson echoes Gloucester on the cliffs of Dover.
But while there are moments of great pathos and wit, as a whole, Steve Marmion’s production falls flat. It’s hard to pinpoint whether the delivery or the content is at fault. Edmondson’s performance does seem a little deflated, a little rushed. But then his character is made to rail against all the clichéd complaints of the middle aged: technology; the youth; health foods. Listening to the litany of complaints, I recall aging comedians reeling off yet another thing they can’t stand about teenagers or Twitter, or teenagers on Twitter.
The staging, however, provides intrigue. Garish Fisher Price toys and copies of The Hungry Caterpillar hang from the ceiling like upside down helium balloons, serving as props along William’s journey. As the Beano becomes his paper and a lo-fi children’s plastic computer his laptop, we are reminded that this is the boy who would not grow up. In one of the truly affecting scenes, William recalls a trip to the bank to change 1,000 coppers into what he hopes will be enough to fund a trip to Eastbourne to see his girlfriend. Because, as he makes the valid point, it is not socially acceptable for middle-aged people to have no money. It does make you contemplate the people who slip out of society.
Indeed, the writing strays into the political; William warns against the impossibility of continuous growth and laments consumerism, housing bubbles and inflation. Haunted by the floaters in his peripheral vision – which are broken off bits of his inner eye – he anticipates the collapse of the economy, society and television series, which modernity has afforded equal weighting. Bits of everything are falling apart because: how can they last forever? We are only specks of dust clumped together for the sake of convenience, he remind us. But it’s not clear if the production wants to fit into the anti-globalisation narrative. Is William’s failing body an allegory for neoliberalism?
The production is more successful at highlighting the disconnect between one age and another. I woke up middle-aged, says William, with no conception of how the seemingly inconsequential decisions of youth led him here. Perhaps that is why I could not connect with the quotidian tragedy of this production. Because I did notice other audience members, yes older, nodding in affirmation throughout. Perhaps these are just not my concerns, yet. Preoccupied with (relative) youth, as I am, stubbornly refusing to connect my story to the story of the aging man changing pennies at the bank. Ultimately William’s aim is noble: he wants to break the continuous boom and bust cycle of life, and prevent his son, Billy, from sleepwalking into his shoes. But as if often the way, his son probably wouldn’t be interested in this story.
Bits of Me Are Falling Apart is on at the Soho Theatre until 3rd December 2016. Click here for more details.