Review: Welcome Break

Megan Dalton 23 January 2014

In this wonderfully strange and incredibly enjoyable dark comedy, the audience is kept on the edge of their seats, never knowing what will happen next.

Two men meet by chance in a service station and surreal events ensue. Adam (Ben Pope) is agitated, bemused, frustrated and occasionally horrified by the socially incompetent Harold (Alex MacKeith) whose mind seems to work as if it is constantly playing a complex game of word-association with itself, leading the dialogue in constantly shifting directions. MacKeith, as writer, deserves high praise for the paradoxical seamlessness of his writing: it is unbelievably bizarre and unpredictable, and yet contains an obscure logic which makes it brilliant in its unpredictability, bringing the audience into a fantastical world in which the nonsensical makes sense.  A world in which the line ‘I ordered a filter coffee’ elicits reams of uncontrollable laughter, despite not even being a punch line.

This is due to delivery as much as content, for both actors do a delightful justice to their words. MacKeith’s tone varies wonderfully and erratically between the deadpan and the melodramatic, and is counteracted perfectly by Pope’s, which wavers between indifference and utter incredulity. But even their impressive vocal abilities were surpassed by their physicality. MacKeith’s outlandishly varied tone was matched by a huge variation in style of movement, from bold overstated gesture to jitters and nervous twitches. Bizarre, spontaneous cameos, such as Pope’s interpretative dance of his coffee and the pair’s flawless dance-mat routine were utterly hilarious. A fight scene was also executed to near comedic perfection, escalating rapidly from a strange, understated dance to some quite convincing stage fighting.

Whilst the show’s ability to carry everything to its ridiculous extremity was its great strength, it did unfortunately seem to surpass an optimum level of anarchy. As the narrative progressed, Adam became too engaged in Harold’s world, and thus he ceased to exist as a basis of normality with which the audience could contextualise Harold’s weirdness. Too much distance was created between the audience and the characters’ worlds, and, instead of being bizarrely funny, became simply bizarre, an in-joke between the protagonists. Humour seemed to be sacrificed in the pursuit of a conceit that never really took the audience anywhere. It felt as though we were waiting for some big reveal, some genius punch line à la Tom Fraser’s conspiracy theory in last term’s SPLEEN, but it nothing ever really came into fruition.

However, this narrative weakness doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a bold, zany and incredibly impressive piece of comedy which is most definitely not one to miss.