A panic attack can only last up to 15 minutes. As Brief Interviews with Hideous Men opens, with Tom Dowling’s spluttering and hysterical breathing, I worry that they won’t be able to keep the energy up for the hour and five minute scheduled running time. It soon becomes clear, however, that this is not to be an issue – the pace is retained in the continuous scene-changing and multi-rolling that is required to adapt David Foster Wallace’s collection of short stories to the stage. We are subsequently introduced to a man mortified by his orgasm habits, the miserable life of the toilet attendant, and a character whose area of expertise is the secret to being a ‘great lover’ and a ‘lady’s ying yang’.
And what better place to be a voyeur to men’s dark and hideous interiors than the equally black and intimate Burton Taylor studio.
The overall sense is of the performance is discomfort – the comedy stems from taboo, invasion of personal boundaries, and a man who seems unaware of the ridiculousness of analysing his fetish for domination in the style of a sober academic. Meanwhile unpredictability and uneasiness is found in the almost clinical slickness of scene and set changes, and constant shift in style, between, for instance, James Colenutt’s mimed caricature and the epic touch of narrator (Chloe Wall) introducing us to ‘Part 2: The Epiphany’.
At times – with a chorus of ominous voices and reliance on strobe lighting, visual projection and sound effect to create the atmosphere of unease- the performance can appear forced, a bit ‘theatre school’. But these heavily stylised moments placed against very real stories is apt, for by the end these characters are barely men, but certainly hideous.
Funny, unnerving, and one of the best pieces of student theatre I’ve seen.