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The Theatreguide.London Review

Tom Fool
Bush Theatre   Spring 2007

This transfer from Glasgow is an adaptation by Estella Schmid and Anthony Vivis of Franz Xaver Kroetz' 'Mensch Meier'. In both languages the title suggests 'Joe Soap' or even 'Diary of a Nobody'.

A German assembly-line worker seems content at home with his pleasant wife and only-slightly-annoying teenage son. But then, in a rush, the son leaves home, the husband takes out his frustrations on the furniture, and the wife, taking a suitcase that has clearly been packed for quite a while, leaves him. The final scenes show all three adjusting uncomfortably to life on their own.

If that sounds not terribly dramatic, I should point out that I've actually condensed and punched it up somewhat. Kroetz' mode is to show, in a series of very short scenes, only the most mundane and undramatic glimpses of everyday life, to make the point that even they can lead to sudden and dramatic events.

And so there's one scene of the three of them just watching television, another in which husband and wife sit in silence for two minutes, another in which she methodically cleans up the mess of his rampage, and so on.

After the play is over, we may remember that silent scene and see it as a foreboding of things to come, or realise that the man's comic obsessing over a pen someone at work borrowed and never returned was a glimpse of a deeper unhappiness. But only in retrospect.

There's something Chekhovian about this concept. But Chekhov lets us see the small tragedies and triumphs as they accumulate to create a life, while Kroetz' point is that they're invisible.

So essentially nothing happens for two-thirds of the play, then a lot happens suddenly, and then nothing happens for the rest. And that's pretty heavy going for an audience.

The cast - Liam Brennan, Meg Fraser and Richard Madden - are impeccable, though one could wish that director Clare Lizzimore had found a way to subvert Kroetz' intentions and give us more of a sense of the characters' internal journeys along the way.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of Tom Fool - Bush  Theatre 2007


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