Stop Trying to Look at my Dick!

Reviewer's Rating

From 6th to 10th February the Golden Goose Theatre down in Camberwell is showcasing the Kaleidescope Festival which provides an opportunity for recent post-graduates at nearby Mountview Academy to present examples of their work, whether full-length or shorter theatre pieces. For this reviewer it is a welcome to chance to escape the conventions, and often the conventionality, of the city centre, and immerse himself in the tastes and priorities of a much younger audience than is usual. While some jokes and tropes were outside my frame of cultural reference, the vibe was fascinating and instructive in many ways, as was the talent on display.

On the evening I attended the second half was given over to a performance of a new play by Jacob Grunberger, with the author performing his own text. The theatre is a simple ‘black box’ theatre with the audience arranged on three sides. The setting is minimalist – just a wooden box on which the performer sits, an array of props on a shelf at the back, and a screen on which snaps of the author’s past life are displayed at intervals. The focus is on the text and the light and shade of its delivery.

Grunberger’s subject is his own life story, starting with the sudden death of his Jewish father when he was a child, a peripatetic childhood through Scotland and Essex as he and his mother struggled to keep afloat, and then moving on to his own mental health challenges and encounters with drugs and mental darkness as an adult student.

So far, so familiar: these are not exceptional incidents in themselves for dramatic treatment. However, the individual handling and presentation of these themes is distinctive and distinguished. Grunberger’s blends self-mocking humour and excellent comic timing (especially when invoking the punch-line that is the play’s provocative title!) with strong elements of physical theatre that provides consistent interest and narrative drive through the various episodes. There is a particularly powerful rap routine with an inwardness that is rare in that genre, and a graphic honesty in the writing about drug experimentation and the brittle fragility of relationships that is always under strong technical control.

Not everthing works. A brief appearance by singer Harmony Daniel at the start seemed distractingly brief, random and unintegrated with the whole; and likewise the ending felt abrupt and somewhat arbitrary. At a bit under an hour the running time could in fact be expanded to advantage (not something I often find myself saying). Grunberger has stage presence, charm and pathos in abundance, with a rare ability to shift the mood on a sixpence. There are surely more scenes in this version of his life that could be quickened into theatrical life.

The show was greeted with great enthusiasm by the audience, partly doubtless out of the camaraderie of fellow graduates, but also, I sensed, because many of these young people had strongly identified with the rawness and wryness of much of what we had witnessed from a performer and writer of whom we shall surely hear and see more.

Venue: Golden Goose Theatre

Director: Noel Wallace

Cast: Harmony Daniel, Jacob Grunberger