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Review of Jelly Beans at Theatre503

Jelly Beans at Theatre503Following hotly on the heels of the hugely successful BU21, Kuleshov Theatre’s next offering is Jelly Beans, written and directed by Dan Pick. This hour-long, one-man-show provides a glimpse into a young man’s life as he grapples with his past and sees nothing but silence in his future. Our narrator, let’s call him Man, is first met in his dingy flat. Unemployed, and having made the decision not to pay the bills, Man’s shabby attire and admission that his girlfriend Jess moved out recently (‘it’s complicated’) hints at a far more damaged frame of mind than the charming, laidback and amusing performance, given by Adam Harley, initially suggest. The play is recommended for 18+, and the rather graphic opening discussion about pornography is an immediate indicator why. Our Man does not hold back in his descriptions, giving the impression that we really are privy to his most intimate thoughts, a fact that is both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure.

Jelly Beans takes us through a rather extraordinary day in the life of this character, from the mundane act of buying Pop Tarts in the supermarket, his meeting with an old man ‘who had a face like a thumb’, and an old flame in a pub, to the eventual – and inevitable? – trip to the beautiful cliffs close to where he lives. As Man’s life spirals out of control, coping mechanisms – sex, drugs, drink, violence – are all desperately grappled with, to no avail. A deep-rooted unhappiness lives within our narrator, due to a family tragedy when he was a child, which man calls his ‘damage’. ‘I want to be a cloud. A gas. Something. Not this’ he says, in a moment of peace. There are themes of mental illness, trauma, death, and longing, and as such, one might be forgiven for thinking this a nihilistic, rather depressing play.

However, Adam Harley’s performance is often light-hearted, personable, and sharply funny, delivering many of Pick’s witty lines as though we ourselves were simply sat with Man in the pub having a pint, recounting our day. There are multiple modern references, and bizarre interjections, thoughts that collide with one another: funny and touching on the surface, but again indicative of the unsound mind that lurks beneath.

With a simple set, and snappy lighting shifts, it is the combination of Harley’s acting and Pick’s direction that shines in this production, merging infectious energy, imaginative use of set, and an ease in performance that lures the audience into Man’s world. Whilst the writing was, in places, a little clunky and juvenile, and although the play was a little long overall, Jelly Beans is a funny, moving, and brutally honest reflection of the state of society – and the people trying to survive within it – today.

4 stars

Review by Amy Stow

Jelly Beans is a brutally honest, hilarious and pitch-black play about what happens when every axiom of your life turns out to be a lie.
Are you going to work for everything you were promised?
Or are you going to let your darkest instincts take control?
After the sell-out success of multi-award nominated BU21 by Stuart Slade(2016) and the company’s award-nominated debut Cans in 2014, Kuleshov Theatre return to Theatre503 with the first full-length play by director Dan Pick (BU21, Cans)

Jelly Beans
By Dan Pick
10-14 May, 7:45pm
https://theatre503.com/

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