Tom Adams has been recording his sleep talking over three years and, in Elephant and Castle, between clips of his slumbering chatter, he and his wife Lillian reflect on their relationship and the impact of his parasomnia. The autobiographical basis of the show makes the humour thought-provoking and adds to its poignancy.
Tom is a ‘somnambulist, somniloquist and teeth grinder’ but, without the gloss of scientific terminology, his semi-comatose sleeping habits seem to make him by turns an amusing, irritating and (when he biffs her on the head) painful bed companion for his wife. The name Lillian gives to the strange character Tom becomes is ‘Mr Indignant’, and Mr Indignant’s night-time adventures make for hilariously absurd comedy. She recalls him urinating in the bin, spooning her as he sleepily utters ‘no, not like that mum’ and throwing a pillow at her head as he exclaims ‘happy birthday Mark’. Who knew that such superbly ridiculous anecdotes could come from studying a slumbering person, but he has insentiently gone about planting the seeds for what grows to be a wonderful show.
As professional musicians, the couple have constructed a series of songs in which most of the narration happens. They take full advantage of their abundant melodious talent to create wonderful tunes and lyrics to match. These take many marvellous and unexpected turns that often capture the hilarity of each story. Lillian starts the show with what appears to be a romantic ballad and Tom, as she recalls he did on their first night together, sits bolt upright and, in a torrent of profanity, shouts ‘fuck you, fuck you, fuck you’.
It’s evidently not all fun, games and sleepy adventure, though. Lillian hints at a darker side as she voices her concerns about the consequences of his nocturnal unpredictability if they were to have children. Their next song tells the story of Kenneth Parks who, whilst sleeping, attacked his in-laws and killed one. This sobering turn reveals the anxiety the sleeping disorder can cause.
The set is simple and consists only of a double bed and a couple of instruments with the electronic paraphernalia that go with them. The soft crimson lighting and vague smell of incense in the room create a comforting atmosphere which, fittingly, one could quite happily doze off in. Without wishing to analyse it too deeply, this sets the tone for their cosy and serenely contented relationship, tinged with the red strangeness that indicates the potentially dangerous quirk of the coupling.
Although the narrative wanders on occasion, this show captures the oddities of the human brain. The pair have taken Tom’s sleeping habits and their effects very much in their stride, and all I can say is, it’s great that this performative couple got together because they certainly know how to dream up a brilliant performance.