Rupert Graves makes his directorial debut with The Ungrateful Biped at The White Bear Theatre, a complex monologue exposing the very depths of human self-loathing. This may be Graves’ first time as a director, but his wealth of experience allows him to set the course of the production on a steady path.
An unnamed character, who reveals almost immediately that he is unwell, begins to recount episodes from his life for the purposes of a video blog. As these stories unfold, it becomes increasingly more obvious that this man doesn’t just hate everything around him, he also despises himself. As he chews up his own world and spits it out in front of us, he doesn’t ask for pity, he doesn’t really ask for anything.
This man, The Ungrateful Biped himself, rants his way through a searing monologue revealing his own abhorrent nature. Rising from the bile are very comical moments, as he takes aim at everything from his old job at the benefits office, to Simon Cowell and Amanda Holden.
Philip Goodhew, who also stars in the production, has adapted that great early work of existentialism, Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Remarkably, Goodhew has managed to stick very closely to the original work, but at the same time make it feel like an entirely new piece of writing. The main narrative closely follows the second part of Dostoyevsky’s novella, while the character is clearly drawn from the descriptive part one.
His feeling of isolation, both physical and metaphorical are captured well in the staging. His bedsit apartment represented by white sheets, a functional table, and a stack of papers from behind which emerges the kettle and solitary pint of milk. But, this stark space is transformed to places from his past by clever lighting from Natalie Furnell-Calvert, with the sheets illuminated from behind to create several different ambiances.
The recording of a video blog adds a nice touch of modernity, and with much of Dostoyevsky’s political motivations removed, the world of social media and celebrity is instead thrust in to the spotlight. The live recording is displayed on an old portable television set, quite why the character would bother do this is unclear, but for the audience it gives us a hint of the voyeurism that could be experienced by the viewers of the vlog, and adds a sense of near dystopia.
Goodhew’s strong writing and exceptional performance make The Ungrateful Biped a compelling watch. Afterwards it’s difficult to decide whether you should despise this man as much as he despises himself, or merely to pity him.
Photography by Andreas Lambis.