For the Grace of You Go I has a short but punchy run at Kings Cross Theatre. Tech rehearsals and opening night was graced by the playwright himself, Alan Harris, who travelled all the way from Wales where the play is set. It’s a quirky, innovative play that has relatable characters against a backdrop of an absurdist reality infused with Kubrik / David Lynch / Orwellian vibes.

Jim (James Smithers) is a job seeker on benefits, the sort that society lets fall through the cracks. His case manager, Irina (Jane Angharad) pushes him to accept a job as a ‘food artisan’ at a pizza parlour, where his only task is to apply pepperoni slices on pizzas as fast and as accurately as possible. Jim is eager, but his mental health won’t allow him to stay focused and do the job to the standard demanded by his employer. In his free time Jim heads down to his local film club to watch and critique obscure arthouse movies, which spawns his obsession with a film called I hired a contract killer. During this screening he meets Mark (Shan-Ree Tan) – an ex-military solider / online writer with a personality that could be described as ‘unhinged.’ Mark is also Irina’s partner.

Jim and Mark bond over their mental health struggles; Jim says he has Depersonalisation-derealisation Disorder (DPD) which creates a feeling of detachment from himself, as if he is only watching a film of his own life. This disorder is played out with various cameras and projections to illustrate Jim’s perception.

Mark comes across as more narcissistic and paranoid; like a grenade he must be handled gently or else he might explode. This tension is what creates compelling drama in Harris’ play, moreso than Irina’s frustration with Jim that he is the slowest and ‘worst worker’ she’s ever seen. There are wry references to government-funded employment programmes that are ineffective, patronising and wasteful, but it’s the day-to-day struggle that is more engaging for the audience. This was highlighted by an unexpected break in the running of the show due to technical issues (which the crew handled with aplomb), and gave the audience a chance to digest what they were exploring. After the short break, the play shifted into a (much needed) and higher gear that raised the stakes: Jim decides to cast himself as the real-life protagonist in I hired a contract killer, and hires Mark to be the hitman.

This delicious premise was supported by an innovative set design (Monique Langford and Kate Ingram) with a green screen draped across a traverse stage that made fantastic use of multiple cameras and projections. We saw close ups of actors’ faces which normally doesn’t happen in theatre; there were also trippy camera effects and mind bends as action scenes were mirrored or deliberately out of sync from what was being projected. The result was intriguing, and unnerving. The scenes from I hired a contract killer felt weird (in a cinematic way, like Kubrik!) and added plenty more cheese to the pizzas that were being served.

If there was any ingredient missing in this production, it would be more of a backstory to Mark’s condition. We wanted to know why Mark left (or was expelled?) from the military. There was an opportunity in the narrative to raise the stakes further which wasn’t quite realised, and rendered the final scene a little anti-climatical.

Still, For the Grace of You Go I is an interesting, experimental play that worked well due to the commitment and creativity of its wonderful cast and crew, including Lucy Clements (director), Jane Angharad, James Smithers & Emma Wright (producers), Clare Sheridan (stage manager), Alice Stafford (lighting designer) and Alex Holver (technical director).

For the Grace of You Go I is playing at KXT – Kings Cross Theatre until Oct 15. For tickets, go to:

Images by Clare Hawley

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *