“Our ultimate goal’ll be t’realise all our dreams, take our proper place in the scheme of things, an’ achieve absolute power”
You don’t get many plays set in Huddersfield but Little Malcolm And His Struggle Against The Eunuchs is such a one, written by the late David Halliwell who also wrote a play called K D Dufford Hears K D Dufford Ask K D Dufford How K D Dufford'll Make K D Dufford and wrote a story for the Sixth Doctor that was tantalisingly never produced. This 50th anniversary production at the Southwark Playhouse is not without its challenges – the trimmed text still flirts with the three hour mark plus the late starting time in the smaller studio and both audience and duffle-coated cast alike are suffering from the lack of air-con.
Duly warned, there’s a fascinating density to the torrent of verbosity here. Expelled from art school, Malcolm Scrawdyke fumes in his cluttered bedsit and decides to form his own political party from whence he can wreak vengeance on those who have wronged him and then wage rebellion against the world at large. Gathering fellow disillusioned souls around him, the fury of his rage elevates him – in his mind’s eye at least – to an exalted position as he rants and raves and plans and paves the way for revolution, if they could make it out of the front door that is.
Clive Rudd’s production positions this critique of totalitarianism interestingly. Even when political divisions are as pronounced as they are today and seemingly exacerbated by Osborne’s every utterance, it cautions against the ease with which people gather round those with the most persistent voice when they’re railing against the world. Malcolm’s followers all have their own reasons for joining up but you can see in their eyes the joy of belonging to a gang, to what they superficially believe are like-minded souls.
But they’re not, and Daniel Easton’s frighteningly assured performance as the disintegrating despotic Malcolm leaves us in no doubt as to how dark things will eventually become, even as he begins to show signs of self-awareness. Scott Arthur’s Nipple, as the recipient of much terrible ire, is a compelling presence, his late Act 1 monologue a thing of wonder and as later events turn sinister, the pathos he brings considerably deepens. A vein of scabrous black comedy runs through the entire play though, twisting all sorts of sympathies.
The writing arguably loses its way towards the end, the inevitable violence of the denouement is horrible in and of itself but what follows is worse, a refusal to really own the action and its consequences that is very difficult to swallow, albeit with a contemporary view on things. But Jemima Robinson’s Lowry-inspired design is inspired (if on the wrong side of t’Pennines) and Giles Thomas’ brooding sound work sets the mood perfectly. Take a fan, take water, take sympathy for the cast in those overcoats and settle down for the rise and fall of Little Malcolm.
Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 1st August
Labels: Barney McElholm, Daniel Easton, David Halliwell, Laurie Jamieson, Rochenda Sandall, Scott Arthur