By Kevin Jones
Directed by Siobhan Lynn Brennan
Assistant Directed by Umalkyhar Mohamed
Produced by Steve Bennett
Assistant Produced by Lauren Lloyd
Designed by Cory Shipp
Sound Designed by Josh Bowles
Lighting Designed by Louise Swindell
Shed Man is a play where a man builds a shed live on stage.
That’s it, what more do you need? How often do you get to see a shed built live on stage?
Ok, so there’s a bit more to it. A lot more in fact, Kevin Jones weaves a funny, moving and yes, surreal narrative around a hot Bank Holiday Monday of Shed building for Brian. The play hits on themes of questioning where you are in life, wondering if life has passed you by, wanting to hide from life- and the things we hide in life. It’s a deft, intelligent piece of writing that poses a real challenge that the whole team rise to admirably.
|Benedict Hurley- image Jonathan Dunn
Benedict Hurley as Brian anchors the production impressively. He gives a considered and intelligent performance in a role that walks a difficult line- in the wrong hands it runs the odd mix of being too understated and too big. Hurley has a real intelligence for this and balances it admirably. He’s also genuinely funny, while being utterly believable as the frustrated man who simply wants to build a shed. When things start to unravel, Hurley shows a real control and understanding of the character that builds those elements subtly, as well as the ‘twist’ to the action for the audience, keeping the more surreal elements again, within his control in the performance. Speaking of the surreal, Joe Burke’s Mr Tatum embraces the surreal, and outright oddball with aplomb. His energetic, quirky performance channels all that you would want from this strange man. It’s a brilliant comedic performance, that never looks like he’s playing it for laughs, which of course makes him all the more amusing. But there’s an odd dark, edge to Tatum, which Burke brings out with ease. We’re never quite at ease with Tatum on stage, and despite his charming demeanour Burke makes sure that’s the case.
Siw Hughes is a delight to watch as Pat. She tears into the garden with the energy of- well of Welsh Mother after her son frankly- but there is a clever pacing to her humour. She is larger than life yes, but there’s a subtle control with which she plays off the other actors and the audience. Yes, Pat is larger than life, but Hughes finds the nuance in the character. There’s a really interesting balance being played between the woman who is driving her son mad on a hot Bank Holiday, and the woman who lost her husband a year ago. It may seem on the surface an unsympathetic portrait of Pat, but actually there’s a lot to navigate in her character, which Hughes does admirably. Also handled with nuance is Emma, played by Chrissie Neale. As Brian’s wife, she has regrettably less to do than the other characters, instead bookending the piece. Neale navigates a challenge here- of being seen briefly then spoken about for the rest of the play and reappearing- with finesse. She brings a real sweetness to Emma- particularly in the final scene, that gives the whole piece a real heart.
|Benedict Hurley- image Jonathan Dunn
The design, by Cory Shipp is a real highlight. An almost Stepford-esque lawn and Shed (in progress), works beautifully. In the studio space at the Sherman the shock of green law, bright white fence and eventual shed, conjure instantly the hot summer Bank Holiday. The gnome and kids’ toy detail add a nice edge of real-yet-strange. And the shed. Let’s not neglect the shed. In all seriousness any design that manages to find, and incorporate a shed that can be built over the course of an hour is a feat of design, and planning. Sheds aside the tiny snap-shot garden design instantly transports the audience and is a real asset to the production.
Jones’ writing covers a lot of ground through the building of a shed. And while metaphoric and surreal, is also beautifully honest, through Brian’s Bank Holiday meltdown. The reflection on frustration with life, envy, questioning identity and on top of that family navigation and grief is a lot to take on (especially while building a shed). But Jones does it without making any of the points heavy handed. It’s a slow burn reflection on personal frustration with life, of reaching a point and wondering how you go there. And some really intelligent and honest commentary on the pressures on male mental health- especially those from Working Class backgrounds where such things weren’t discussed (Mum’s chest pains, yes, Brian’s mental health no). The exploration of Brian’s relationship with his boss, and his frustrations with his career are as painfully honest, as the depiction of how much he loves his wife is sweet and heart-warming. And all of it adds up to a fascinating angle on exploring these, all mixed up in a package that makes the audience work for it just enough.
|Benedict Hurley- image Jonathan Dunn
The minor quibbles with the writing would be that some of all that Jones crams in doesn’t quite get chance to breathe. The comments on Brian’s Father are some of the most brutally honest and frankly cutting moments of the play, and a little more, even if just peppered across the piece would strengthen these moments that are there, but seemingly gone too quickly. Similarly, Emma’s role in the play hits on a minor quibble with Kevin Jones’ otherwise brilliant writing- that Emma, and to some extent Brian aren’t given as much space as they need to offer a fully satisfying arc. In the case of Emma, it’s a frustration with her brevity of involvement, or moreover a little more involvement in the last scene. Similarly, Brian’s moment of revelation felt like it needed a little more- perhaps reflection, perhaps just a moment to breathe in both the writing and direction. Overall, perhaps another 10-15 minutes of the play’s succinct 60-minute running time, would have given more of a slow burn, and high level unravelling to Brian’s Bank Holiday revelations. And a little more, perhaps in the direction, for room to breathe at the end, would have really allowed the themes to hit home.
Shed Man is a challenging piece to direct, and Siobhan Lynn Brennan does an admirable job. It’s a fine line to walk with surrealist elements just how far to push them, but these and other areas of the play feel like they could have been pushed further to really make it click. At times it felt like the play skipped over moments that should have been dug into, and that valuable moments were slightly lost. It’s a credit to Jones’ writing that these moments are there, and that the play remains strong without. For the direction, pushing a bit harder on those key moments might have pulled it up a gear. It is a challenge and one Brennan rises to well- creating moments of genuine comedy, and genuinely touching moments. But at times it did feel like the odd beat- and indeed the odd moment of true oddness were missed opportunities. That said, Brennan directs a difficult piece admirably. It’s a detailed, complicated piece of writing, and one that isn’t easy on an audience at times, and she has brought out the humour, and humanity in the work, which is to be applauded.
Despite these minor quibbles- and they are quibbles with a play that is wonderfully entertaining to watch, and beautifully thought provoking- would truly have elevated it. In Shed Terms, it’s not quite a Super Shed winning Shed of the year (Yes it’s a thing) However it’s still a solid shed that’s going to last the winter, and give those who use it chance to pause, chance to think, and something really satisfying to enjoy.
Shedman is at the Sherman Theatre as part of the ‘Get it While it’s Hot’ season. Until 17th November
Oh I’m quite enjoying these, and as this isn’t a democracy, I’m going to carry on.
First order of business, when your Dyslexic brain can’t quite remember the word right and is convinced ‘Mr Tatum’ was the weird goat-fella in Narnia. Turns out that’s Mr Tumus, so you live and learn. Mr Tatum is however that fella from Magic Mike, which is a very different film.
It’s been an odd three weeks, feeling like Kevin Jones is (one of the) voices in my head. How often really do you get to see three plays by the same writer in the same week? And it’s been a joy. Worryingly (I’m not sure for which one of us) Jones and I seem to have a lot of similarities in our lives. And so, it’s been quite the adventure in ‘oh someone else said that/felt that/had that’. But in Shed Man, much like Cardiff Boy I felt voices I knew were being presented, honestly and without pity. I also applaud any writer with the courage to write about difficult family relationships with the honesty and candour Jones manages.
Anyway, I digress. Full disclaimer, I’m a writer as part of Clocktower’s current season, but hopefully the above review is objective enough to indicate that doesn’t colour my judgment. In closing though, I would say, how very very proud I am to be a small part of the Clock Tower ‘family’. The entire team has worked so very hard, and achieved so much, over the past five years, but in the last year in particular. And so, it was an utter honour to see them open a show at the Sherman, to such warm response. And, as the nicest people I have had the pleasure of working with, long may their success continue.
(also obviously see my play with them when it opens. What I’m not above a bit of shameless self promotion)