Jelly Beans is the latest work from Kuleshov Theatre and the debut play by Dan Pick. It’s a dark, disorientating one-man play that chronicles a day in the depressing existence of an unnamed 25-year-old degenerate. However, far from an irritating millennial whinge, Jelly Beans is a nuanced cautionary tale. It explores the bleak consequences of internalising trauma rather than dealing with it, and what happens when a strong sense of purpose is misdirected.

Adam Harley gives a captivating performance, capturing the audience’s attention from his first word. His charm and expertly judged comic timing, elicit laugh after uncomfortable laugh in the opening sequence, as he finds humour in the dark, repulsive subject matter. As Harley draws the audience into his character’s deranged yet oddly self-aware mind, he proves himself to be an excellent storyteller.

Dan Pick’s writing and direction presents a unique insight into a disturbed mind. He juxtaposes the man’s present with childhood memories and whimsical fantasies in an increasingly surreal and fragmented monologue. This is an effective way to explore how past trauma can provoke someone to commit extreme acts of violence.

Importantly, the man is not portrayed as a psychopath but as an ordinary person who is fundamentally good but has let his pent-up anger, bitterness and depression go too far. This makes the events of the play scarily relatable.

Jelly Beans has impressive scope, incorporating a vast range of themes including hedonism, mental illness, addiction, suicide and escapism. There are subtly repeating allusions to sugar and to teeth, giving circularity to the structure. This creates an overarching metaphor for instant gratification in our culture, whether of food, sex, drugs or alcohol, which acts as a destructive force and inevitably leads to decay.

The staging and lighting design are simple but highly effective. There is a single chair on stage, flanked by one large bucket of water and one of ‘blood’. The blood is used sparingly apart from one shocking and very visceral moment. The soundtrack provides a gently building crescendo which greatly adds to the sense of foreboding.

Jelly Beans is a witty and highly intelligent play that gives a voice to the young men struggling under the weight of the pressure to live up to an unattainable standard, unable to ask for help.

Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Photo: Claudia Marinaro

Jelly Beans is playing at Theatre 503 until 14 May 2016