Double Act is a beautifully crafted story about the human existence, mental health and small victories. Following the events of a particular day of the unnamed protagonist, we're taken through a number of incidents, interactions and internal conversations, each one thoughtfully written and performed. The show is the debut full stage play from writer and performer Nick Hyde, and yet is one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen.
Performed as a double act, Nick Hyde and Oliver Maynard, the two actors simultaneously portray the same protagonist and yet are distinctively different in their approaches. With Maynard's performance being more grounded and tense, and Hyde's more fantastical and emotional approach, it renders a well-developed and rounded character.
We learn nothing about the protagonist, not even his name, yet he feels incredibly real and relatable in his reactions and thoughts. From seething at waiting mere minutes for a tube, to being self-conscious around vaping teenagers, to reminiscing on the old habits of exes and being awkward with old friends, the protagonist could be any one in the room. It's this stroke of genius, his lack of unique personality, that allows the audience to step into his shoes, and thus not only accompany him but to undertake his journey ourselves.
The two performers Nick Hyde and Oliver Maynard do an exceptional job, easily slipping between a variety of characters (old friends, older women, annoyed men, attractive strangers) and becoming the protagonist. Thoughtfully directed by Jef Hall-Flavin, each performer is given a moment to shine and both equally command your attention (a teary final scene of shaky bravery for Maynard, and a feral beastly boxing match for Hyde). The two actors compliment one another, and accomplish a sense of fluidity in their synchronicity.
The show brings together a number of different approaches of storytelling, seamlessly moving between inner conflicting monologues, to audience interaction, to external conversations, to physical comedy to emphasis points and introduce new scenes and utilising silence exceedingly well. Particularly impressive is Maynard's ability to perform tricks with cardboard boxes, both performers managing to dress the other simultaneously and downing cans of sprite (which needs to be seen to understand).
The staging is minimal with two chairs and microphones being the only props for the most part. Props are used sparingly and only if they contribute to the story in a significant way, this is a particularly intelligent approach as it all comes together at the end to further emphasis a key point (stage management by Ryan Mulgrew). Lighting and sound (Frederick Waxman) add a great deal to the show, often playing to the tone and mood of each scene. Through the use of circus music at the start, and coloured lighting, the show contains an element of dramatics and showmanship to it.
The show whilst hilarious in its relatability, the punny jokes and delivery style is ultimately a real dive into men's mental health. Set to a harrowing subtext, the shadow of depression and denial slowly grows throughout the play, until the light hearted commentary of the day's events is replaced with a heartbreaking observation and sparse jokes. Much like the sun setting, the darkness descends on the play, creating a truly beautiful sunset for the play's climax, leaving the audience with a scene that will sear into your soul. Without spoilers, the performance and portrayal of being overwhelmed in the final scene is so powerful and painful and left most of the audience with streams of tears.
Despite the truly respectful and authentic approach to presenting a burnt out 20-something year old, the show never tries to define and label the protagonist's struggles. The frenzy, frantic and occasionally manic behaviour is never played for dramatic effect, and lead to natural conversations that confront these. Particularly a meeting with an old flame for closure, leads to a rather brave conversation about cowardice.
Double Act is an emotional journey that will wreck you, yet ultimately leave you feeling light. It is a brave exploration into mental health that will render you speechless in its compassionate approach. Managing to be exciting, engaging, entertaining and emotional, Double Act is truly a gem of a show. Currently playing at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 13th of January, for more tickets and information, you can follow the link here.
AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Charles Flint