I was going to do a round-up of top-notch shows from this year’s Fringe, and might still do so, but having thought about Camilla Whitehill’s gripping Mr Incredible for 48 hours and read a few reviews, I’ve decided it deserves a post of its own.
Billed as a “new play about modern love and old-fashioned entitlement”, it tells the story of Adam and Holly. Or rather, Adam tells their story, while Holly’s voice is silent. Which isn’t to say her personality is absent – in Whitehill’s brilliantly crafted monologue she is very vividly drawn.
Adam and Holly are now estranged, and this situation is permanent. It’s obvious from the outset that Adam has done something unforgivable – there will be no shock twist here – but he isn’t about to just blurt it out. He needs to put things in context first. He’s addressing an unseen listener, and he wants this person to understand that he’s a good guy. I was reminded of Dennis Kelly’s masterful Orphans, in which a different kind of awful truth gradually unravels. It’s more about the journey than the destination.
The reason the play works so well is that Adam isn’t a villain. Thanks to Alistair Donegan’s superb performance he is utterly believable and startlingly normal. Some reviewers have expressed unease about this, suggesting the script tips too far towards sympathy for him, but for me this is its greatest strength. It’s not that he’s unaffected by what he has done – far from it. He just cannot face up to what he is.
Many have highlighted the evidence that Adam sought to change and control his younger girlfriend from the very beginning of their relationship, but it’s worth considering the evidence that this was – and in real life often is – a two-way street. Of course a Fringe audience full of people like me would scoff at Adam bemoaning Holly’s post-work chat about Syrian refugees when all he wanted to do was watch Take Me Out, but isn’t this type of personality mis-match simply one of the pitfalls of building a relationship around physical attraction and a booze-fueled hook-up?
Similarly, when Adam suspects Holly of cheating and goes through her belongings, it’s not clear that this is part of any concerted campaign of coercive control. We’ve all seen that grim story play out, in TV dramas if not in real life, but this story is more ambiguous, more opaque and more normal.
That’s why I’m still thinking about it two nights later, and hoping it reaches a much wider audience.
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