Lionman: The Great Escape(s)

Monday 2nd March 2020 at Harrogate Theatre (Studio).

⭐️⭐️⭐️

In Dapertutto Theatre’s Lionman we meet Leanard, your classic awkward hermit-intellectual type. Holed up in an uninspiring rented room and flanked by mildly interesting neighbours and an oddball landlady, he cracks out obituaries as a day job while dreaming of more fantastical adventures for himself. Never really leaving his room, his mind wanders constantly, influenced by anything from an eavesdropped conversation heard through the pipes or a seed planted by a clip on TV. This guy gets very little done…

Tom Hardman gives Leanard an instant and sustained semi-tragic, semi-comic quality as he goes about his daily business with a habitual clumsiness and thoughtful silence. The piece pivots on moments of monotony, allowing the act of getting dressed for instance to become a charming physical sequence undercut by playful music. Mundanities in this teeny room give way to various spectres of imagination intruding on the space to thrill or terrorise our decidedly singular protagonist.

Hardman is joined by Cameron Jones and the pair conjure a variety of Leanard’s imaginings from idealised love affair to feline company (a lovely puppet from Jessica Kay) to ghouls and gremlins brought into semi-being through Emily Arnot’s eerie lighting and Jack Davenport’s sound design. While it’s never clear why some of these conjurings are clawing at poor Leanard, others are nicely recognisable as reflections of life’s expected fruits. However, in constantly giving way to Leanard’s imaginings at random, the piece does edge towards the supremely absurd at times which isn’t always as stylish in result as it seems to be in intention.

The piece is highly physical and ambitiously so. Sequences are well designed and demonstrate some great synchronicity and precision with our cast showcasing impressive skill (the publisher pressure and drinks with dad sequences being particularly well done). But the physical sequences can feel too large scale and ambitious for the space, leading to awkwardly loud collisions with set pieces which detract from the stylish concepts and inventive details. Style and intent are definitely there throughout but some of the most frenetic (albeit slowed in motion) and more complex sequences could be better realised.

More style comes in the form of various famous film clips played on an old TV set; from Taxi Driver to Brief Encounter to a surprising old Schwarzenegger interview and beyond, it doesn’t take much to spur our stagnating writer into tangential mental action. Later the films shift from true fiction to Leanard’s personal fiction with self-reflections and reels and reels of his life once he dons the necessary form of Lionman. The films do somewhat overpower the live action in the second half and there’s an amateur veneer to the visuals which lands somewhere between comical and entirely fitting in their lacking lustre; nothing could be more Leanard by the end of it all than an a set of grand declarations delivered in such a wry manner.

With some great puppetry work, intelligent use of multimedia and well conceived physical sequences, Lionman rests comfortably on its artful visual appeal but finds a loose footing when it comes to a polished narrative. All in all, it finds ways to engage and amuse even while it puzzles and evades a clear conclusion.

Lionman tours until May 2020 and you can find tickets and information here.

Photography: Tom Barker

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