Tuesday, 26 February 2019

REVIEW: As a Man Grows Younger at the Brockley Jack

The new play “As a Man Grows Younger” written by Howard Colyer is a one-man show of 70 minutes which introduces us to Italo Svevo (1861-1928), one of Italy’s most famous twentieth century authors and also a friend of James Joyce, who he met many times and thanks to whom he learned English. The monologue is set in Italy in the 1920s, a time when Mussolini’s fascist party was rising without being taken too seriously yet, and Svevo (played by David Bromley) struggled to write his next piece for fear of being prosecuted. 

Fear is the operable word here. It is omnipresent in this play. There is a fear of going to prison, of where the country is going, of anyone related to the government. Whenever Svevo feels afraid, frog croaks sound through his head, and even come out of his mouth. They announce danger, and keep him on his toes, but also make him wonder what it would be like to ignore them. He’s just written a new book about a man who doesn’t age, referring to Mussolini’s hope for a young Italy. He doesn’t know whether the next vehicle riding by will be the paperboy with a new review, or the police. Svevo also smokes a lot, calling each cigarette his “last one”. I took this as representing a fear of letting go of the past too. His brother, whom he lost in his twenties, tried to get him to stop smoking. There is also a fear that tomorrow he’ll be dead and that it will indeed be his last, a never-ending circle. 

This is a strong production by in-words with a beautiful and cosy set design by Karl Swinyard. Italo is in his study which is crammed with books, newspaper clippings and a messy desk with a central typewriter. Large windows help the writer to gaze out onto the street below every time he hears a noise – whether an explosion or a dog. 

The set design is supported by strong movement and direction by Kate Bannister, guiding Svevo around his room, inserting quite absurd elements like Svevo eating a cigarette or horribly playing the violin. I would have liked to see even more of these absurd and non-naturalistic moments. 

Bromley is excellent as Svevo, with an eccentric side of him mixing with wisdom
and a history of sorrow. He is eager to share what he is going through by speaking, as he is holding back in his writing. When he plays his mother in law, wife or policeman, his facial expressions transform completely which is amusing and impressive. 

At the moment, I sense there are many historical one person shows going around, and they are allowing us to learn about or rediscover different figures from around the world. It is not often that you encounter Italian characters which is a nice change (I heard Italian in the audience too).

This is a strong one-man show with a beautiful performance that one should see to remind ourselves that there is also beauty in the non-heroic character.

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Free seating | Price of Ticket: £16
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