Stuff @ 24:7 Festival, 18-24 Jul
Stuff, from writer Mick Cooper, starts with a seemingly straightforward premise: affluent bachelor Xav (Karl Greenwood) is dying of a brain tumour and has come to visit his friends Toby (Danny Ryder) and Jess (Eve Burley), a couple in the throes of a fertility crisis. Tired of travelling the world, worried that he has wasted his life, Xav is looking to leave some of his wealth to his pals when he passes on. Toby and Jess are touched by his visit, and try to hide the tension that their present situation has brought.
However, it soon emerges that Xav intends to bequeath more than just his money, having paid a visit to a clinic to deposit his “stuff”. Penile puns aplenty follow, my personal favourite being Toby’s unimpressed assertion that Xav is merely “palming off your semen to close friends.” In fact, certain passages feel like a brainstorming session for describing that aforementioned substance rather than a serious play, with culinary themes to the forefront – bollock yoghurt, anyone? Drinking games, dressing up and deranged debating all occur as the farce flows to its comic conclusion.
The material mentioned would be fine for a stand-up routine; funny enough, but hardly fulfilling. Thankfully, Stuff moves beyond juvenile jokes and offers its audience distinct characters, and the heart that comes from their journey together. Jess is perky and positive, but also a worrier who hides her concerns by being busy. Toby is serious, stern and driven by hidden vulnerabilities. Xav is the real centre of the story, a comet of quirky energy who snaps from one side of the stage to another in the fashion of a foul-mouthed Pee-wee Herman, in turns flippant and thoughtful. Wonderfully written and performed, if it were not for his terminal illness one could imagine Xav taking on a life beyond this single play.
All three actors deserve great credit for their work, portraying the humorous and the heartfelt with equal aplomb. The direction and the staging is rather like a referee having a good game: it works so well you don’t notice it. A hand therefore to director Gregg Aled Scott and the production team, who have so successfully realised this script, balancing the serious and silly elements with great skill.
It was a real treat to see something like this at 24:7, a pleasant change of pace and tone from the more serious work on show elsewhere. Puerile but also plausible, Stuff is a great play to see if you’re looking for a bit of comic release – pun intended.