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Past Tents at Jack Studio Theatre

There’s an acquired sense of humour in what is, for the most part, a rather bizarre setup in a campsite which raises more questions than answers. Everything does, after a particularly elaborate scene change late in proceedings, become clear in the end, though the show seems to go from majoring on ambiguity to tying up various narrative strands a little too tidily. Alan (Seth Jones) has crashed his car and seeks help, quite reasonably, from the nearest place that seems to be inhabited.
Past Tents at Jack Studio Theatre
For reasons explained in the narrative, it’s not as easy as being able to phone for help, with Virgil (Mark Keegan), who runs the campsite, not having as much as a functioning fax machine. Alan, left with no choice but to stay the night, pitches up next to Justin (David J. Keogh). Both Virgil and Justin have eccentricities, very distinct from one another, but because all Alan would like to do is get some rest, Justin’s various attempts at camaraderie and companionship very quickly become irritating, at least to Alan. It is amusing to those in the audience who find pleasure in observing schadenfreude.

Others, however, found themselves gasping at some of the humour, as Alan’s misfortune is compounded in various ways – it would be giving too much away to start listing them here. There are the ‘bushtucker trials’ in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! And then there are things that Alan is subjected to, in a very exaggerated realisation of ‘sod’s law’. The performances get quite physical at times, almost always with comedy in mind, but the humour doesn’t always land. That Alan and Justin are such polar opposites also makes a later deep and meaningful conversation somewhat unconvincing – there’s a sudden outpouring of emotions and personal backstory that doesn’t feel entirely earned.

Still, it’s evident that the production is clearly trying to broach the difficult subject of men’s mental health by using absurdity and surreal humour. But the leap between fluffy silliness and comedy farce to profound and cathartic release by way of talking through one’s problems is too sudden. The plotline is therefore more contrived than it could otherwise have been. The point is bluntly made that there are therapeutic benefits to discussing whatever it is that people are going through in their personal lives, with repeated references to weights being lifted off shoulders.

The cast appeared to be enjoying themselves on stage, which is always good to see. But at just over an hour and a half without an interval, the production started to drag on a bit in places, with Justin’s persistence in continuing a conversation with Alan being as repetitive as Alan himself pleading to be left alone.

The inclusion of religion in the dialogue was a curious choice, particularly in a society where fewer and fewer people attend places of worship of any kind, and it was refreshing to see faith treated pragmatically, neither being dismissed outright nor embraced without question. But Alan’s story is so bleak that I could understand and even sympathise with him wanting to exercise, so to speak, the right to be forgotten. I doubt that was the writers’ intention.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

When Alan’s car crashes in the middle of nowhere, he hopes his bad day (which started with his wife leaving him) can’t get any worse… and of course it does.

After trudging through the muddy countryside, he comes across a campsite run by the rather eccentric Virgil. With no other options and no signal on his phone, he has no choice but to stay the night. Unfortunately for Alan there’s only one plot left, situated in-between a doggy-poo bin and the rather annoying Justin.

Justin is everything Alan despises – a positive family man with his life completely in control… or is he? Because things are not what they seem and as the tension builds between the men, they start to reveal their true selves with hilarious and rather unfortunate consequences.

Past Tents
by Seth Jones and David J. Keogh
produced by Stuck Productions
Tuesday 26 – Saturday 30 September 2023
https://brockleyjack.co.uk/

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