Don't let the fact that tax is mentioned in the play's synopsis put you off. Yes this new play by James Graham is about a tax return but it's the most interesting, entertaining and moving tax return I've ever come across.
It's virtually a monologue. Ben Edwards (the cast rotates and for this performance it was Samuel Barnett, far left in the picture*) is trying to file his tax return after his first year of being self employed but in doing so has to go through a year's worth of receipts.
Each receipt contains a memory, sometimes good, sometimes bad and sometimes very sad about Ben's life. The stories around each receipt are interspersed with a slightly flirtatious telephone conversation Ben is having with the friendly Lisa on the help desk at the Inland Revenue (played by an actor who sits at the back of the audience) but what makes this play really clever is that the audience has all the receipts.
Ben retrieves them one by one, in a random order, so not only is there a little bit of improv as he segues into each story but also the jigsaw pieces of events that make up the past year are played out in a random order. No two theatre performances are ever alike but this adds a whole new dimension to the idea of unique.
But it isn't just a gimmick. It really works. Barnett as Ben engages with the audience often talking directly to the person he's just collected the receipt from. He takes you on the painful and sometimes funny journey of his loves, losses and loneliness and it is testament to Barnett's performance that you get to the end feeling like you've lived the year too.
Full marks go to Poly for suggesting we see it. It's on at the tiny Finborough theatre until the 19 June and is a bargain for the quality of script and acting and I can't recommend it enough.
* Saw Samuel Barnett recently in the wonderful Women Beware Women at the National, what a busy man he must be at the moment. Was also lucky enough to catch him afterwards to sign the playscript which is also signed by James Graham. Lets hope they go on to be very big in the theatre world - would be much deserved.
The critics view:
Andrew Cavendish in The Telegraph gave it four stars saying: "Perhaps what’s most impressive, though, is the way that Graham takes an arid, theatically unpromising activity and finds in it scope to unpack all kinds of youthful confusions, dashed hopes, shrewd insights and mixed feelings."
What'sOnStage also gives it four stars describing it as "sophisticated and innovative".
Michael Billington in The Guardian also gave it four stars also saw Samuel Barnett play Ben and says: "Everything depends on the performance, and Barnett is astonishing at confiding in the audience and conveying Ben's mixture of guilt, shyness and fundamental goodness in this picture of a nervous but likable individual coping with the populated solitude of city life."