The Fastest Clock in the Universe

The stage was set for the birthday party of the year with the (overcrowded) audience as its guests of honour

Production: The Fastest Clock in the Universe
Reviewer: Li Peng Cheok
Rating: ***

The stage was set for the birthday party of the year with the (overcrowded) the audience guests of honour. In a seedy East London warehouse, Cougar Glass is about to celebrate his umpteenth nineteenth birthday. His enamoured and balding benefactor, Captain Tock, goes through the party preparations, complete with cake and fake birthday cards; helping Cougar set up an annual trap in which to catch and seduce a fresh-faced teenage boy – in this case, sixteen-year-old Foxtrot Darling.

Philip Ridley’s dark play is a typical Drama Barn choice (hey, if it’s not farce, it’s gonna hafta be intense moody-broody), but director Kamil Luke Mika tackles it with commendable confidence and ease. Mika succeeds in recreating Cougar’s world where time stands still , effectively engaging the audience , by forcing them to tiptoe around the set on entry. What he fails to do however it fully convey the play’s obvious Orton and Hitchcock influences,

The air of The Fastest Clock in the Universe hangs on tense strings, with obvious homoerotic tones. The character of Cheetah Bee, admirably played by James Quelch,has a sex change during the production while Quelch who attempts to soothe anti-hero Cougar , affects the mannerisms of an aged woman. Although he bites at Captain Tock, he, like all the other male characters, displays an exceptional tenderness towards Cougar. The duality of his nature adds an interesting twist to the play’s sharp theme of uncertainty.

However in addressing all these themes, though, the production seems to have missed out on a vital part of the play: animalism. Ridley’s characters live in the perfect embodiment of a concrete jungle. Save Quelch, who moves slowly but menacingly across the stage, wrapped in an immaculate mink coat like a large cat, this theme is seemingly lost on the other characters. Captain Tock’s obsession with birds, in particular, is sadly limited to a stuffed one in a case and a couple of paintings onstage. Although there was good all round effort from the cast, including George Viner as Foxtrot and Emily Farrow as his poisonous girlfriend, Sherbet Gravel.

Ridley’s anti-hero has always been a difficult character to portray and in this case, Oliver Julian seemed to fall prey to first night nerves. Despite looking impossibly sexy in those tightie-whities, he also managed to nicely capture Cougar’s vulnerability. Cougar is supposed to be, quite simply, cruel. He is an intense, amoral and menacing character, a cat likely to pounce at any given moment. Despite Julian’s best efforts he seemed more intimidated by the audience than intimidating. Where was the arrogant predator that the play’s poster boasted?

Ryan Lane as Captain Tock both saved and stole the show. Both humorous and sad Lane rose above his ridiculously obvious bald cap to deliver an inspired performance worthy of Ridley’s play.

Looking past the small kinks, The Fastest Clock in the Universe remains a stirring, intriguing and dynamic theatrical experience. Watch the play and solve the mystery of the fastest clock in the universe. Tick tock.

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