“I don’t believe in luck, I don’t believe in fate,” sings the character of Sam Wheat in Ghost The Musical, though he has a change of heart by the end of that show. This rather dark comedy, Richard Parker, explores the idea of coincidence in a dense script that occasionally comes close to being ‘in-yer-face theatre’. There were, to summarise without giving too much away, miscellaneous Richard Parkers through the generations, including the two characters who are on a ship, meeting for the first time: coincidence, y’see. Thus we have, in order of appearance, Richard Parker (Dan Bottomley) and Richard Parker (Luke Adamson). It’s almost a pity it’s only a two-hander: consider, for instance, the multiple characters in something like The Comedy About A Bank Robbery and there might be considerably more scope for hilarity.
It’s not like every single Richard Parker ever was referenced: there’s no talk, for instance, of the late father of Peter Parker, Peter being the comic and movie superhero also known as Spider-Man, or the Richard Parker in the novel Life of Pi. That book, however, derives its Richard Parker from what its author, Yann Martel, describes as a “triple coincidence” – historically, there were (at least) three separate Richard Parkers that met their fate at sea. Those ones are spoken of in this play.
But how many Richard Parkers have there been over the centuries? I’m all for the whole ‘six degrees of separation’ theory, for instance, but this play seems to insist on treating ‘coincidence’ as a deity that mustn’t be questioned, such that when one Richard Parker asks the other how he knows what the future will hold based on past events involving other Richard Parkers, all he gets is a cult-like adherence to the god of Coincidence. Nope, I’m not convinced either.
Judging by the audience reaction (the performance was in the round, so my own reaction was as visible as anyone else’s) the style of dark humour wasn’t for everyone, and a near-relentless play on words became too repetitive by the end. The storyline, ultimately, is quite thin, and a long – if rapidly spoken – discourse about Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy came across as a filler to pad out a narrative that was essentially about two blokes in a ship in the first half and then in a rescue boat in the second.
The actors are undoubtedly well cast, though the conclusion, when it comes, is most certainly not coincidental in the slightest. Part of me was delighted that the Richard Parkers had, in the end, brought their fates on themselves, and part of me was slightly surprised that the end was so potently definitive.
Both performers are engaging in their own way. Bottomley’s Parker is this self-confessed lone ranger who does his own thing – the opening scene in which he can’t get any reading done for all the public service announcements being broadcast on the ship is one I can personally relate to. Adamson’s Parker, meanwhile, came across to me as a Jekyll and Hyde man, at times conciliatory, apologetic even, and other times downright threatening.
Neither Parker, as far as I could deduce, changes their opinion on coincidence when all is said and done.
This is a steadfast attempt at looking at how things happen, but doesn’t consider why things happen – only deducing that, to quote The Phantom of the Opera, “these things do happen”. Still, it’s a fairly curious and likeable show.
Review by Chris Omaweng
In an 1838 book Edgar Allan Poe told the story of four men lost at sea. In order to survive they killed and ate the cabin boy, an unfortunate soul by the name of Richard Parker. Forty years later, in a real life situation, four men did find themselves adrift in a boat and to survive they had to kill and eat the cabin boy whose name also happened to be Richard Parker.
Was it simply coincidence? Or something darker?
Now two men meet on the deck of a ship. Both named Richard Parker. Little do they realise that their coincidental encounter is one piece in a longer chain linking the two individuals to each other.
Two men. One name.
With its razor-sharp script this black comedy builds to an unexpected climax which will leave audiences gasping in astonishment. Owen Thomas’ Richard Parker is a brilliantly dark and witty exploration of the intersection between fate and coincidence. Don’t miss this exciting piece from the team that brought you the Off West End Award nominated The House Of Usher.
Starring Luke Adamson & Dan Bottomley
writer: OWEN THOMAS
22 & 23 Jan 2017
Two shows only.