Henry Devas’ debut play premieres at The Park Theatre, examining depression and male suicide in a darkly comic, and often surreal, characterisation. Jez Pike directs this gut-punch of a play which will leave its audiences reeling long after the performance ends.
Devas teases the audience from the outset, in contrast to the theme we are presented with a stand-up comic in the opening scene. But this is merely a nod to the central character’s life before “the bang came”. Now Matt, the failed comedian is trapped in a squalid flat with Tristabel and Benzies. The windows are boarded up, and hostile forces are threatening to come in through the front door. The only escape is via a ladder, which simply leads “up”, but none of us, not even the protagonists know what they’ll find at the top of that ladder.
The script pulls the audience in one direction, before veering off in another. Some cataclysmic event seems to have led to this post-apocalyptic existence. But while there’s a sense that all hope is lost, the initial tone remains relatively upbeat. Indeed, the first act in particular is unexpectedly funny, a heady mix of absurdist humour and lad-banter, with enough ‘your mum’ jokes and aggression to cement the concept of toxic masculinity.
For much of the play it’s not clear who these people are, or how they came to be here, but that’s entirely deliberate. Tom Canton’s wonderfully eccentric Tristabel rules the roost, holding a manipulative psychological grip on his fellow captives, and influencing them to do things they don’t necessarily want to do. Daniel Portman gives a terrifyingly raw performance as Benzies, chopping and changing from childlike innocence to fierce aggressor in a millisecond.
The true situation becomes clearer with the introduction of Liam Smith’s Chris/Christopher in the second act, but there remains a short time when the audience may feel like the play is becoming a little too abstract. Yes, the vagueness is required for We’re Staying Right Here to have the impact that it eventually does, but it starts to feel frustrating.
Danny Kirrane leads the cast as Matt, and it is a truly magnificent performance. Dripping in blood and snot, he delivers an emotional and descriptive explanation of depression which leaves you holding your breath at the explosive candor in which the subject is being represented.
If there is a way to adequately tackle depression in a stage performance, then this is probably as close as we can get to a portrayal of the crippling effects it can have, especially on young men. We’re Staying Right Here initially feels like a combination of too many different genres, with too much left unsaid to fully engage the audience, before turning volt-face to deliver a forceful, and at times, shocking look at mental health.