Matthew Howard-Norman & Lee Joseph
(Photo by Shay Rowan)
(Photo by Shay Rowan)
A Double Bill with 'Naked Old Man'
Written by George Gunby/Murray Schisgal
Directed by Paul Blinkhorn
4.5 Stars (John And Mark)/3.5 Stars (Naked Old Man)
A somewhat curious double bill; one part disturbing reflections on murder and celebrity, and the other a gentle rumination on old age, this was, overall, a beautifully entertaining evening.
(Photo by Shay Rowan)
First up was ‘Naked Old Man’, by the multi award-winning Murray Schisgal (co-writer of the film ‘Tootsie’), and starring Richard Sails. This autobiographical 45 minute piece had Schisgal ruminating about his 82 years of life, in the company of several deceased friends and ex colleagues. There isn’t a lot of plot, and it was thanks to Sails’ genial characterisation that ‘Naked Old Man’ didn’t fall apart at the seams. It was effectively and efficiently done, but pretty throwaway, and more than a little self indulgent (on the part of the writer). A lot of
Hollywood names are dropped, a few gently amusing anecdotes, and a lot of
first-hand observations about old age. Sails is perfectly cast (though about 20
years too young), and does his best to make the material work, but there just
isn’t enough to get his teeth into. A pleasant, undemanding piece, and
something of a light starter for the more filling main course to come.
Controversial, and apparently too much for
Liverpool audiences (earlier performances in the city were sparsely attended, partly
thanks to the negative attitude of the local press, and some narrow-minded
Beatles fans). Northern Outlet Theatre Company’s latest production, ‘John And
Mark’, takes a chilling look into the mind of John Lennon’s killer, Mark David
Chapman, by way of the ghost of Lennon visiting the prison cell of his
assassin. This new work by George Gunby was riveting, humorous, dramatic,
chilling, and gut-wrenchingly emotional. Playing to a capacity audience at ’s Manchester Canal Street bar, Taurus, in a claustrophobic underground theatre
space, this hour long piece worked superbly well.
Matthew Howard-Norman as Chapman, portrayed a shuffling mess of a character; a repressed man-child calmly attributing his actions to the will of God, and the seeming hypocrisy of his celebrity victim. The portly, pale-skinned Howard-Norman, clad only in a pair of ill-fitting, baggy, and supremely unattractive underpants, opened the play, and physically summed up the pathetic, self-loathing Chapman in an instant. A short scene, set the night before the killing in December 1980, had Chapman begging for some human contact from a brassy, and impatient
prostitute (Tracy Gabbitas), and being coldly
rejected. Fast forward a few years, and Chapman is now living out his days in a
maximum security prison, still protesting his moral innocence and remaining irritatingly
uncooperative with psychiatrists and doctors. Enter John Lennon, in the wiry,
virile form of actor Lee Joseph; sloping nonchalantly into view with the
signature swagger and arrogant devil-may-care attitude of the scouse icon
himself. Joseph embodied the man perfectly, and the scenes between Lennon and
Chapman were riveting. We learned that Chapman had all the makings of a good
man, that he did a lot of charity work with Vietnamese refugees, and had firm
religious convictions. His obsession with J D Salinger’s novel, ‘The Catcher In
The Rye’, led to him viewing the wealthy and successful Lennon as a fake, and
the former Beatle as a disgusting hypocrite for preaching about peace, love,
and the dismissal of material wealth whilst living the life of a millionaire
celebrity. Whether Chapman had a point is up for debate, and this stage version
of Lennon certainly hit back against the accusations with a compelling argument
(namely, that he was only an ordinary man trying to make a difference, and that
he’d have been a fool just to simply give his money away). The remarkable Tracy
Gabbitas appeared again as Lennon’s Aunt Mimi, in a supremely moving scene
suggesting what might have been if John had returned home to New York Liverpool.
The central question, of exactly why did Chapman shoot Lennon, can never be answered; the problem is with the question. For the pathetically deluded Chapman it was absolutely the right thing to do, and it was destined to happen, but for the rest of us it was an outrage for which the pain will never end.
Director Paul Blinkhorn kept a tight reign on the material, and never fell into the trap of simple black & white ethics. Chapman can be viewed as a sad, fundamentally flawed human being, who might have taken a different path in life but for a loveless childhood, and an abusive father. He could be seen as a victim, but the target of his anger and delusion just happened to be a beloved messianic figure to millions, and Chapman’s demonisation must continue, it seems. Thanks to this provocative and disturbing production, the other side of the coin spins into view. For a change.
Reviewed on 13.11.14
Tags: John And Mark, George Gunby, Lee Joseph, Tracy Gabbitas, Matthew Howard-Norman, Naked Old Man, Richard Sails, Paul Blinkhorn, Northern Outlet Theatre Company, Taurus, Manchester