REVIEW: THE UNGRATEFUL BIPED (White Bear Theatre) ★★★

Modern society blasts a lot of opinions into vast empty space: Via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube… Cue the Underground Man, who, as adapted and portrayed by Philip Goodhew, records his video blog in a dingy London flat. After a pretty unsuccessful 40+ years on this planet, always at the sidelines, never part of ‘the group’, he spews his poison onto the internet. Beyond all bitter, he overanalyses and despises mankind, society, himself, and existence itself, all the while thinking himself above all others. He dissects his own character traits and recounts haunting memories of his life full of hatred and shame. It increasingly becomes clear, however, that all this man craves is to belong, be popular and beloved, just like the rest of us…

Considering that the ‘Ungrateful Biped’ is an extended, 75 minute monologue of a man obsessed with his own intellectual personality and eloquence, Philip Goodhew still manages to capture the attention of the audience throughout. The pacing and balancing of this adaptation that ranges from more abstract philosophical thoughts, the recollection of memories and ideological ideas is especially well done.

Dostoyevsky’s ‘Notes from Underground’ has scored its place in history as the first existentialist novella in 1864, but the themes resonate with a modern audience just as well. Actually, the material translates so seamlessly into modern times, Goodhew could have dared to take things even further in style or motifs.

The staging is minimalist but effective – a plain backdrop with a few scribbles and drawings (angels, eyes, a coffin) reflect the emptiness but also neverending stream of consciousness the Underground Man experiences. Anecdotes are underlined with soft blue, red or green lighting.

It is unclear whether this play was spawned by an own current dismay at humanity or a fierce passion for the source, but either way the team of director Rupert Graves and writer/actor Philip Goodhew succeed at putting a difficult and wordy piece on stage.

Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent


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