Harry Lloyd is sat in a beaten-up, leather armchair on a stage made up of old, hard-backed books. He is bare foot but wrapped in a piece of black, sack-looking cloth. His bob length hair is greasy and dishevelled and he has a scraggy black beard.
As the audience arrives he meets their eye, waving in a manner that has both an innocent excitement and manic energy of someone who is slightly deranged.
I'm sat on the front row and I have met Harry's eye returning a subtle smile. Next to me, two old ladies have got out their diaries and are in a deep and complex negotiation about a date for something or other. One complains that her pen won't work 'just when you want it to'. Neither look at Harry. It feels oddly appropriate for this adaptation of Dostoyevsky's existential novella Notes From Underground.
He warns us that he is full of spite. And he is and he isn't. An unreliable narrator you wonder at just how much of what is in his head has only ever lived there. Is it spite if he never actually said or did it? His ennui brings him both frustration and pleasure. He is a mass of contradiction shunning and seeking human companionship, following and dismissing different philosophies and theories. It is nightmarish.
At times the dialogue feels impenetrable, locked inside a manic, tense and sometime pitiable persona, the performance is mesmerising. Then at other times he drags you right in, meeting your eye and sometimes holding your gaze. It is quite startling when he suddenly turns his eyes on you so intently the feel of his gaze is palpable a mixture of pleading, willing comprehension, anger and fear. You want to reach out in some way, an offer of comfort but are fearful of doing so and not just because of theatre etiquette.
This isn't an easy watch, you have to work hard to keep up but sometimes just seeing such a performance close up is enough.
Notes From Underground was adapted from the novel by Harry Lloyd and Gerald Garutti and is on at the Print Room at the Coronet in Notting Hill until 1 November. It is 70 minutes without an interval.
Have also seen Harry Lloyd in:
A View From the Bridge also starred Hayley Atwell who has not only worked with Mr W (Brideshead and Love/Hate) but regularly sings his praises on Twitter.