Mental illness is something that we are all terrified of in some respects. How many times have articles about mass murderers, serial killers and the like included an interview with someone who is dumbfounded as the perpetrator ‘looked and acted just like everyone else’? In fact, an awful lot of the thriller genre relies on mental health issues not being identified in order to keep the suspense going. And mental health is at the heart of Laila Bouromane’s debut play Absolute Certainty having its first run at the White Bear Theatre.
At a fairly nondescript greetings card manufacturer, someone is slightly out of kilter with the rest of the team. That someone is Michael (Mike) Dunhill (Andy Murton) a member of the accounts team who basically likes to keep himself to himself. He doesn’t get involved and attempts at conversation with him result in tight-lipped, monosyllabic replies that elicit no personal information whatsoever. That is until arty designer Jamie Roberts (Justin Stahley) runs into Michael at a therapy session. The two start to talk and somehow, Jamie tells Michael about himself and why he is at the session. Somehow, the two form a sort of friendship much to the bemusement of Jamie’s team – the very ambitious Nics (Laila Bouromane) and the less confident Anne Marie (Madeleine Dunne). However, things change and, although Michael is a good listener, he is not that good at bottling things up and one day he explodes, revealing far more about himself than he ever intended – or did he?
For a debut play, Absolute Certainty is a pretty fine piece of writing and Laila should be heartily congratulated for producing such a fascinating and engaging one-act play. The plot runs very nicely with a great link between the start and the finish. My only criticism was that the play felt slightly too short. For example, I would have liked to know more about Anne-Marie – who to my mind was definitely heading for a fall if she really thought Nics was her friend – but there is only so much that can be done in 70 minutes. The focus on Michael and Jamie worked really well and the two characters – totally chalk and cheese in many respects – balanced each other and the story extremely well.
A good play needs a good script and a really great cast and Absolute Certainty definitely had that. Andrew Murton gave an absolutely first-rate performance as Michael. When in the office and when talking directly to the audience, he made Michael a really well drawn and intriguing character. Likewise, Justin Stahley must know some creative types as his Jamie was just right. Having worked with marketing and branding people, I can testify to the authenticity of Jamie in this production. Together, Andrew and Justin make a lovely ‘double act’ as the two characters meet and converse under the most embarrassing of circumstances. Laila and Madelaine as Nics and Anne-Marie respectively were interesting. Nics ambitious and driven, Anne-Marie timid and naive. Two characters one already fighting to be top dog, the other far too trusting. Finally a mention for Niall Bishop who played two very different characters – a by the book, slightly acerbic PC Fitzgerald and the thrusting, sarcastic, ‘take no prisoners’ CEO of the card making company Mr Shinley. Niall displayed a real talent in making both characters very different to each other and both extremely believable – although I would hope the police of 2017 would be slightly more sympathetic than PC Fitzgerald.
Director Susan Raasay keeps the story flowing, most of the cast on the stage throughout the show, The one issue I had was that with the audience on two sides of the stage, there were moments, particularly near the end when I couldn’t see everybody which was a little frustrating.
To sum up, Absolute Certainty really gripped me. The play certainly did not have the feel of being a writer’s debut and the cast delivered it really well. The issues it raised around mental health issues and how they are treated in the workplace are very relevant today and would, I’m sure, generate quite an interesting discussion in most offices – in fact, I’ve just told my housemates about the show and we’ve been discussing the issues. I could easily see the play being expanded to bring some more out of the other characters but I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to Laila’s next play.
Review by Terry Eastham
Mike Dunhill is a quiet man. A typical introvert. He lives a life of seemingly quiet solitude. But something is off. His work colleagues at the greeting card company can’t quite figure him out. Whilst they battle it out for brownie points from Mr Shinley their boss, Mike seems to be fighting his own battles. What is it about Mike? Is it always the quiet ones who snap?
In a world of noise and confusion, it can be hard to find peace and clarity. When the lines of gossip and facts are blurred, how can we be absolutely certain what’s real and what’s not?
ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY is the debut play by Writer and Actress Laila Bouromane with Hambre Productions.
Andy Murton – Mike Dunhill
Justin Stahley – Jamie Roberts
Madeleine Dunne – Anne Marie
Laila Bouromane – Nics
Niall Bishop – PC Fitzgerald/ Mr Shinley
Creatives: Susan Raasay Director
Monica Trabucchi Stage Manager
Laila Bouromane Producer
Laurence Easterbrook Cameraman/Editor
Laurence Easterbrook Sound Designer
By Laila Bouromane
The White Bear Theatre
138 Kennington Park Road
London SE11 4DJ