Doubt greeted us as we took our seats. Was this a squat, or a cramped student house? An immigration holding facility, maybe? A pinboard bears a medley of photos, subject unknown; a figure stands awkwardly and mutely on a floor littered with detritus. Elsewhere, a second figure lies sprawled on a mattress. Ambient electronic music groans away sotto voce, the scene bathed in surprisingly warm light. Figure 1 launches into a monologue of unrelieved paranoia, soon joined by a new arrival, seemingly craving an audience, bursting to get off his chest an anecdote about a Catholic priest.
This enigmatic setting revealed to be the secure unit of a mental institution, so the four inmates unburden themselves, haltingly in form and by degrees in substance. The question arising from material of this kind is: have we here anything more than case-studies? Has the dramatist (first year student Malgorzata Kaczmarek, who also directs) managed to transcend the chapters from the mental health textbook by means, say, of endowing these individuals with metaphorical or symbolic importance? Do we gain new insights from their plight into human nature, the world around us or even into ourselves?
The answer in my view is no, not really; but that need not mean the material is devoid of interest, although Prisoner 2 (Jennifer Crompton, lurching a little about her space, scratching her arms) never progresses beyond what was once called persecution complex: 'a man in a suit was at the heart of it all', while Prisoner 3 (Joshua Fine) appears in the grip of religious ecstasy, gazing heavenwards and sawing at the air, an El Greco-esque ascetic seeking with a degree of glee at an audience upon whom to unload his delusions. Prisoner 4 (Caleb Barron), questioned by Prisoner 1 (Eddie Chapman) about his murderous motives replies: 'I was having a bad day'. There's a bit of callous shock value there, but I wanted to know more, and the very short running time – little more than 30 minutes – forbade that.
Each of the four actors had their moments: Jennifer was effective in showing herself unafraid to take her time, Joshua managed to switch between a degree of glee in recollecting his crime to frustration at his perceived lack of recognition. Caleb was plausible in outlining the rage within him and talking of the bright colours of a sunny day, while Eddie (very good last week in Love/Sick) had less to do.
I liked the de-saturated look of the production, with monochrome black, grey and white suggesting both the institutional feel of the secure unit and the state of mind of these trapped inmates. Laura Gisseleire's lighting similarly brought off a few jumpy cuts suggestive of disturbance of psyche.
The play's brevity militated against any development to speak of in character or situation, but Four Men did enough to encourage the thought that Malgorzata Kaczmarek has the potential to develop something with a bit more originality and resonance, and thus perhaps become a significant player in