The Grand Gesture is adapted from The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman, cleverly modernised, and now set in a port in the north west of England in some time close to the present day. The play, which is presented by Northern Broadsides in partnership with Harrogate Theatre and has been showing at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, is centred around the desperate northerner Simeon Duff.
Played by Michael Hugo, Simeon is a man who reaches total despair due to his hard and seemingly meaningless life, and decides it is time to end his misery by committing suicide.
He then has a succession of visitors who all try to persuade him to commit suicide for their particular cause.
It’s billed as a comedy, and indeed at times the actors had the audience in stitches with some fantastic comic timing.
However, this is a play that also has some very dark and almost sinister moments.
When Simeon, a jobless Liverpudlian, is clearly having second thoughts about his self-imposed demise, and all the others in the pub stop him speaking with constant chanting of “drink, drink, drink”, the atmosphere is almost chilling.
One of my favourite characters of the evening is Victor Stark (Robert Pickavance) who plays a very clever game with our poor hero’s mind.
The entire play has a cast of just 11, but at times it feels like there are many more on stage.
All are worthy of mention, and gave excellent performances.
Most of the cast had to play several characters which they did with the smoothest of transitions.
This is a play that can be enjoyed on two levels – you can enjoy it as a comedy and leave it at that, or you can allow the director to draw your attention to the darker side of the play and, once you do this, you’ll spend the second half of the play in total suspense, constantly asking yourself “will he, won’t he”; and at times almost hating the characters even as you laugh at their jokes.
It takes a brave writer to make light of a destitute man’s mental journey towards plotting his own demise but, throw in a bit of laughter, a quality crop of actors and garnish it with the simplicity of the New Vic’s intimate in-the-round stage and you’re assured a successful performance.
Which is exactly what the audience got.