Imagine being stuck in a room with a heartbroken child, an eccentric motivational speaker, a disheartened adult, a sage, a crazy maniac, a comedian, a simpleton, a poet and a philosopher. Now imagine all of them to be the same person. And then imagine listening to him talk about his life for seventy minutes. That is Hyde Park Theatre’s Thom Pain for you. It is silly and wise, flat and effervescent, genuine and rhetorical. In short it is a bizzare, twisted road but Ken Webster effortlessly leads you all the way.
In this seventy minute monologue, Thom Pain goes back and forth as he shares stories about a bee stung boy with a dead dog, a sick guy beside a skating rink on a Christmas Eve and a young man enjoying few pleasures with a mysterious woman. Thom Pain clearly has a lot on his mind but he isn’t sure of what it is or how to convey it. The neurons are firing continuously, but not in any particular order or pattern. So the ride is bumpy. Will Eno’s writing style although lyrical in some ways is also indirect and skewed.There is a lot of room for interpretation, a lot of unearthing that needs to be done to get to the underlying core. It is then in the hands of the actor and director to take us on this revealing journey. And Ken Webster excels in both these roles. He makes you care about this confused basket of emotions that lies scattered on the stage.
Through his solo act, or what might seem like a standup open-mic night gone a little awry, the protagonist is almost reliving his painful, short-lived childhood, bitter adulthood and a few happy moments. Ken Webster does a wonderful job of bringing these to life. With a practically empty stage, he uses minimal body movements and an occasional friendly yet sarcastic smile to ensure he has your full attention. His main weapon though is the text and his voice. His rendition of Thom Pain’s narration is so hypnotic that for a few minutes in the middle of the show, I couldn’t help but close my eyes to just listen to the words. And their absence. Every word was crisp and every pause precise.The words, their cadence, the silences, their length. Perfect. Like a symphony he puts you in a meditative trance. Only to shake you out of it with a dark quirkiness that makes you both, laugh and cry.
I am not a big fan of audience participation and have always been sort of averse to the idea. But the way this fourth-wall-breaking technique was employed and executed in Thom Pain was just brilliant. A couple of times in the act, our narrator who is clearly on the edge, breaks the fourth wall to ask for a volunteer from the audience. And just like that, he puts you on the edge. All of your past wounds, present fears, secret insecurities and forgotten regrets come back rushing to you as you wonder if you are to be the next one at the mic. Your throat goes dry, your feet tremble. You find yourself wanting that one chance to get it all out. Like Thom. And then he decides against audience participation and you heave a sigh of relief and regret.
To sum it up, Will Eno and Ken Webster have created a piece that has profound, long lasting impact. With it’s seemingly discordant rhythms, Thom Pain mirrors the shameless cruelty, the cruel hilarity, and the hilarious complexity just as well as it reflects the enchanting mystery, the mysterious beauty, and the beautiful simplicity that is life. I’ll conclude with a line I loved.“I know this wasn’t much, but let it be enough…. Isn’t it great to be alive?”
Thom Pain is playing at Hyde Park Theatre till August 3rd. They have only six shows left and their shows sell out fast. So get your tickets now!