Madam Renards’ new production, Fred, Ted, Jack & Harold darkened the doors of the Cockpit Theatre as part of the Camden Fringe festival on the 4th of August written by the talented mind behind ‘To Sleep’, ‘Family Play’ and ‘The Life We Lived’; Swindon based Matt Fox.
And dark it certainly is. This comedy production takes office life and gives it a twist and turn that make paper jams and running out of milk look like a walk in the park. This is a story of punishment and revenge. A story of a power struggle where five downtrodden workers are lorded over by a maniacal manager. The story of what might happen when the thoroughly unrepentant bad get their just desserts.
Armed with nothing more than chairs and a table, Steve Cowley (Ted), Peter Hynds (Fred), Andrew Cunningham (Harold), Sarah Bostock (Liz), Heather Davies (Myra) and Molly Campbell (Jack) conjure up a dark and dreary office that I suspect many of us could relate to. Of course, the situation escalates quickly as Office Manager Liz’s treatment of them all is revealed to be diabolical and something that would never be accepted in a real-world workplace but the fact that the piece starts off in a more relatable manner makes it all the more effective when things do go from bad, to worse, to worst.
That being said – much of the ‘twist’ element of the play is revealed in the promotional material so there’s never a big surprise element to the production even though the characters themselves get the ‘big reveal’ of learning that they’re not the office workers they believed themselves to be but are actually the damned souls of serial killers. I do wonder if the piece would have been improved by greater secrecy around the characters’ true identities or if it would have felt trite. Naturally, and sadly, we’ll never know.
Over the course of an hour and a half Fred, Ted, Jack & Harold covers a lot of ground and the challenge of trying to get across six such strong characters, the innovatively created environment and the plot arc is an extremely difficult one. Arguably too difficult as, though the parts were acted very well, I never quite felt like the characters on stage were connected to the infamous killers that are their namesakes. I have to say though that I don’t feel like that’s automatically a bad thing as from the little I know about each of them, I can’t help but feel that the ‘real deal’ when thrust together would dissolve into chaos in moments and to give a portrayal too realistic would be likely to damage the production in other ways.
Not to say there weren’t touches of the real-life villains onstage – some of the mannerisms were identifiable in an attention to detail that does the piece credit. Nevertheless, overall, I was still left with the feeling that the use of infamous people’s names was more to offer an accessible route for the audience to connect to the situations portrayed rather than the serial killers themselves being an intrinsic part of the concept of the piece.
The idea of an office-based eternal damnation is a great one (and one that many people who have worked in an office will appreciate, I’m sure), and the way the cast portrayed the situation alongside the minimal props and staging was impressive, to say the least. Add to that a heavy helping of dark comedy and risqué references and, content quibbles aside, Fred, Ted, Jack & Harold is certainly worth a watch.
Review by Damien Russell
Eternity working in an office… it’s the nightmare that every desk jockey find themselves in…watching their precious lives slip by in a haze of emails, conference calls and soul-crushing boredom.
Fred, Ted, Jack & Harold are four such people… or at least they think so.
What if eternity was meant literally? What if your soul deserved to be crushed? What if you happened to be the worst of the worst, and every tedious hour spent battling the photocopier was actually payback for the most heinous crimes imaginable?
Fred, Ted, Jack & Harold by internationally acclaimed playwright Matt Fox is the darkest of dark comedies, featuring a selection of infamous characters, in a familiar world turned on its head.
Produced and presented by Madam Renards
Hosted by The Cockpit
An Extremely Dark Comedy
By Matt Fox
Part of Camden Fringe