The Albany, London – until 16 March 2017
In arguably the most challenging production seen at the festival so far, Boxman is a one-man show. 45 minutes focussed around Ringo (Reice Weathers), a homeless man fled from his war-stricken country to live on the streets, a favourable and more affluent alternative to forced militia. His home has no walls, but similarly provides safety and protection from the uncertainty of the outside world. He regresses to a child-like state, talking to a shadow and a torch that act as his inner conscious, his spirit guide to process the events that have unfolded. But this is a show is which a lot of storytelling happens, yet lacks enough accompanying changes in production to emphasise each point.
Edwina Strobl directs Daniel Keene’s Boxman as part of the Stomping Ground Festival, a Young Director’s training programme set up by StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Weathers establishes his character before the performance begins, an invisible shadow on stage that the audience pass by to take their seats. He hums to himself and rocks back and forth, causing people to give sideways glances and curious expressions. He is an oddity, an object of observational intrigue. His manner has a salesman style to it, friendly and warming that instantly draws you in. Comedy trips off the tongue as sadness lows just below the surface. Strobl contrasts the warming patter with spotlight memories that haunt his past and resurface through his present; Weathers’ pauses here are for poignancy, lost in the horrific events that only he can see. The deadpan delivery unearths a torrent of pain and distress.
By speaking to an inanimate object, Weathers is able to externalise his thought process, overaccentuate his physicality and make full use of the stage – Strobl blocks the production with full respect for the space. But there are times when the visual is too similar; in a one-man show with a script such as Keene’s, the variety often has to come from the interpretation, since the script exists on very few levels. A few subtle changes in light, in tone or in pact will serve to break up the monologues and ensure that a more impactful overall impression is made.
The final portion of Boxman shows the differences that can transform a performance. A torchlight prop differentiates Weather’s personalities, from a tension building historical account to an ever more crazed present persona – this momentum provides for a memorable end to the show. Strobl clearly understands nuances in characterisation and will realise a stronger production by turning the same levels of attention to the offstage elements of the show.