The Hope theatre in Islington is betrayed by its name. A tiny box theatre above a trendy bar that is a champion of the ambition of some of London’s finest producers, directors and performers. Against the tsunami of commercialism in the West End and elsewhere, the triumphs of innovation are coming from London’s independent theatres, the smallest spaces restraining the biggest risks in writing, in performance and in directing.
LOST SOULS AND LUNATICS is the newest addition to the canon. Programmed to fill the odd dark days that they have in October is a one-handed play performed entirely by Billy Colvill who the programme tells us, despite being a trained actor and a National veteran, has spent the last 25 years as a postman. It goes on to say that his critics applauded his performances as a postman as ‘unmissable’ and ‘reduced me to tears’.
Billy is Charlie, motormouth septogenerarian and walking book of waspish wisdom. Charlie is alone. Reminiscing on a life well lived, opportunities found and lost and a myopia of alcohol populated by dreams, delusions and now ghosts. His mother, his Mary and even Francis Bacon take their bows in a fuelled reverie that reaches a mesmerising crescendo.
The challenge of the monologue is to keep the momentum and not allow the claustrophobia to overtake. This piece through the brilliant writing; extraordinary performance and Lil Warren’s uncomplicated and satisfying direction allow a powerful punch that is emotional without being mawkish and genuinely funny without compromising the drama.
Stranded in the minimalist set of his front room, LOST SOULS AND LUNATICS is armchair theatre at its very best. Billy navigates Johnnie Quarrell’s tight witty dialogue, song snippets and one liners with a deft debilitating charm, his memory wanders over the past randomly talking to the lost souls of his life until you quickly realise that it’s Charlie who’s lost along the walk of his life. It’s brilliant writing and a powerhouse performance. An extraordinary theatrical experience.
I recommend this highly and urge other theatres to take it on but one thing is for sure, the postman hasn’t lost the power to be ‘unmissable’ or to reduce an audience to tears.
Reviewed by Barry Ryan
Photo: Michael Cheetham