Theatre N16, London – until 22 February 2017
As a name, Will Power conjures the image of a jack the lad, a confident (perhaps a touch arrogant) young guy with a slight swagger, affable nature and consistently positive outlook on life. In Toby Boutall’s play, William (Anthony Fagan) certainly is that. No matter what gets thrown in his way – clingy female work colleagues; the painful morning commute; an uninterested father, he continues to stay upbeat and happy. So much so, that it’s almost unbelievable. But as an audience, we buy into it as he jokes with his brothers (all ironically also named Will) and smoothly glides through life.
Boutall’s script for Will Power has a double meaning. The sheen slowly fades as William informs of the sudden deaths of his siblings, one by one. Little by little, the atmosphere becomes more matt than gloss, although William resists feeling downbeat at every turn. One death, bound to happen – the brother was overweight after all. Another death, he’s sad but still fine, seeking temporary solace in bedding the girl he’s rejected numerous times. The final death shatters the illusion though – the final death is a car crash with him at the wheel. Now he is a shell of the man he was to begin with, questioning whether he has the Will Power within himself to keep going.
Fagan gives a competent performance as the lead, bringing an easy-going narrative arc to the show and creating a party atmosphere as he interacts directly with his audience – bubbles keep everything feeling childlike and carefree. It’s all a smokescreen, a means of denying reality. Eventually the bubble bursts, he is left in the bathtub and reveals the lies he has told throughout to make himself feel better. The audience doesn’t witness a factual series of events, but instead is sheltered from the truth inside William’s sugar-coated alternatives.
All of this gives the impression of a carefully considered play with some interesting conceptual material. But Boutall’s script feels unfinished – the final reveal comes too quick, the ending is too abrupt leaving the audience baffled and confused. The entire production value is low too – technical issues and a poorly thought out set interrupt the flow of the story, distract from the ultimate goal of highlighting male mental health issues. The reasons behind the production are lost in translation; in the end Will Power is incomplete and loses all impact in a rushed and ill-thought out conclusion.