Reviews NationalOWE & Fringe Published 6 April 2021

Review: Open Mic at HOME/Soho Theatre (online)

1-3 April

Eye contact: James Varney writes on liveness in Rob Drummond’s unsettling, loss-tinged open mic night.

James Varney
Open Mic by Rob Drummond.

Open Mic by Rob Drummond.

He keeps looking at me, this Rob feller. In any other situation, he’d be looking out at the audience but here he has like, three cameras to pick from and if he looks ‘at’ them he’s looking right down the barrel and into my eyes at the other end. – – He’s talking about the potential this evening has, but rather, the potential of being people together in the same place. Like chicks in a nest, we need each other’s company, warmth, to keep going, keep alive. – – And then he looks at me again and he tells me so maybe this show tonight will save a life.

And that’s funny, and it’s creepy. But the effect of that stare is different because we’re on a live stream here. If we were in a pub or an auditorium, Rob Drummond’s knackered, drilling stare would be funny and creepy in a similar way, but he’d be looking out into middle distance and not making eye contact with anyone. – – It might feel like he was making eye contact with all of us but he’d be making eye contact with no one. – – Instead of Drummond staring out, he’s staring at me. Instead of a cold glare at the dark air, ruining his vision catching the stage lights, looking out at nothing, the void, the universe, god, Rob is looking for a tiny red point: his eyes aren’t stage eyes, and they meet mine.

The inclusion of part of Rob’s Zoom audience projected onstage becomes very clever, then. A lot of the time, he is addressing this audience, looking around, vaguely addressing the space he shares with a couple of big screens. There are mannequins sat in cabaret-style seating in front of a low stage and Rob wanders about these, but more than shape and movement the real faces on the screens let the evening retain a sense of liveness. We are, still, here together. Without them, I’d be watching from a distance, and Rob’s staring down the lens would still feel like watching a film.

The play has a sickly, lurching energy, characteristic of open mics back in precedented times. The host knows how to host, for sure, but he’s gone off the rails, he’s fucked up and he has something on his back from the start. – – If he had known his mate’s wife was vulnerable, he might not have gone to the pub lock-in. But he did, and she was, and he can try to justify it. But he knows he sounds like a child, clutching for justification where he had none. – – Because this isn’t a real open mic. God knows what a real open mic is, but for Rob it was a specific one, a place he had just found in a small town he’d just moved to. But the pandemic took it away from him.

Rob’s loss is a place to belong, a community he had just begun to feel part of. He knows there have been greater losses. It is selfish of him to have done what he did. And isn’t that revolting. The weighing up of losses. The comparison of one loss to another, the portioning out of a mass of human suffering. Rob wheedles, tries to magnify his loss, tries to puff up the good he has done in bring us here. – – Maybe we can save a life. – – Maybe tonight will save a life. – – And he looks directly at the camera again, again, again. His eyes are the eyes of a man making decisions, damnit, the eyes of a man trying to rally us all together. He has such good intentions. – – Doesn’t it feel good to be here? To have been brought here? – – Wouldn’t it be nice to cheat? To all come down to the theatre together?

He’s right, it would. It’d be lovely. The choice would be the weighing of chance, portioning out and justifying our suffering against other people’s. As if society was a pocketbook we can keep balanced on our own. As if sacrifice was something which affected only ourselves.

There are, I think, two other people actually in the room with Rob. We don’t see them, but there’s a stage manager, I think. Maybe a director. They clap at one point, a tiny flutter, tak tak tak tak tak of clapping. tak tak tak. Like a tin pigeon taking off tak tak tak tak. It’s ghostly, a dead clap.

Open Mic ran from 1st-3rd April at HOME, Manchester and Soho Theatre, London. More info here.


James Varney

James is a writer and theatre maker, based in the middle parts of England. He has created work with Daniel Bye, Josh Coates and Lenni Sanders and had work presented at Derby Theatre, The Royal Exchange, Manchester Literature Festival, Live at LICA and Camden People’s Theatre. James enjoys Peanut Butter, DIY Punk and Long Walks On The Beach.

Review: Open Mic at HOME/Soho Theatre (online) Show Info

Produced by English Touring Theatre, Soho Theatre

Directed by Richard Twyman

Written by Rob Drummond

Cast includes Rob Drummond



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