On one level, A Pocketful of Bread is quite straightforward. Two men, Man with Hat (Ross Mullan) and Man with Stick (Gabriel Mansour) are in conversation regarding a dog that is in a well. Whether the dog accidentally fell in or was the victim of a cruel act – who can say? It seems strange, whether or not the play was set in the era before smartphones were commonplace, that neither of them thinks of getting outside help, even considering the parameters of this being a two-person play.
Various suggestions regarding next steps are suggested, then rejected – I liked the rather absurd idea of using a ladder, and it would have been comical to have seen it attempted. There is then some debate, for example, as to what good chucking small stones into the well is really doing: on the one hand, the dog reacts to the stones by barking, thus letting people know it is still alive. But on the other, there is the obvious danger that a stone might strike the dog, thus causing injury.
It is perhaps necessary to clarify that no actual dogs were harmed in this production, mainly because no actual dogs even feature – if there were one, it would almost certainly have stolen the show. The narrative is really about the irrationality of human nature and how people can be as kind as they are cruel, as logical as they are unreasonable. The show isn’t for everyone: despite its brevity, there were occasions when it verges on the tedious because of the sheer number of ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs’. One starts to wish that someone would do something instead of blabbering on about it.
Then again, that in itself is what the play explores, at least in part: the ease within which a state of ‘analysis paralysis’ can be reached. It’s hardly a novel idea in theatre – the title character in Shakespeare’s Hamlet ponders so much that he becomes “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” (Act III Scene I). But as the accusations and one-upmanship pile up both characters go from being affable to thoroughly dislikeable. The show’s ending is intriguing, suggesting that it is some force or higher power greater than mankind that, ahem, gives us our daily bread (hence the show’s title) just like pet dogs are given food and drink by their owners who see to it they are cared for.
A number of questions are asked by the production in a feedback form. One asks if the show would be a good fit for a theatre festival. As it is a relatively quiet and reflective piece, it would be rather incongruent for Vault, but the Camden Fringe may be a good place for it in a future life. And how would I describe the show in three words? Surreal, philosophical, witty.
Review by Chris Omaweng
When Man with a Cane and Man with a Hat find a dog stuck at the bottom of an abandoned well, the two passers-by fiercely rant against the unknown culprit, passionately bickering about how to help the dog out, anxiously philosophising about the madness of the world, aggressively accusing each other, and… doing nothing… while fervently justifying their inaction.
Written in Romania in 1984, with productions in France between the 1990s and 2010, this contemporary fable humorously explores aspects of human nature and socio-political behaviour which (sadly) still haven’t lost their relevance today.
This will be the English language world premiere of Visniec’s Godotesque piece.
Man with Hat: Ross Mullan
Man with Stick: Gabriel Mansour
Writer: Matei Visniec
(Translated/adapted from Romanian and French by Ana Nanu & Anne-Sophie Marie)
Director: Anne-Sophie Marie
Producer: Gabriel Mansour & Ana Nanu
Poster Design: Pablo Molina Larrosa
This project is supported by Arts Council England and Romanian Cultural Centre.
10th-13th of September, 7.30pm (approximately 50 min)
Ovalhouse Theatre, 52-54 Kennington Oval, London SE11 5SW