An autopsy of a strangely deformed body is delivered by an eccentric mortician, who peels back, onion-like, layer by layer, the life experiences of the dead man from death to birth: this is the inspired starting point for Is He a Bit Simon Jay?
This production sets out as a kind of mystery, a puzzle to be solved. This initially seems to be: who - or what - is this body, and how did it arrive at its current state? I had wondered whether “Simon Jay” would turn out to be some Cockney rhyming slang I had never come across, but in fact it is simply the name of the one man behind this truly one-man show – Simon Jay is the (co-)author, director, eponymous “hero” and actor of all the roles in this theatrical curate’s egg.
As such, he does a workmanlike job of transforming himself from one character to another, and some of those characters have some initial entertainment value: for instance, the bar-room bore, the woman struggling with her computer, the man in the Job Centre who is “not lying, just creating facts”, and the hypno-psycho-therapist given to absurdly creative metaphor (“the Problem Eggs in the carrier-bag of freedom”). There are also flashes of brilliance in the writing (“she goes to church every Sunday – almost religiously” or “Mummy’s been drinking the dizzy-juice again”).
As a theatrical experience, the production suffers from a lack of humanity. Unlike the Dick Emery to whom he compares himself, Simon Jay seems to feel a complete lack of sympathy, let alone affection, for any of his characters (with one single, short-lived exception) with the result that his story seems to be peopled entirely by vile two-dimensional Gerald Scarfe-style caricatures for whom the audience can feel no warmth. On the contrary, the predominant feelings elicited by most of them range from distaste to disgust, so that by the time we reach the one brief heartrending scene, it is too late to become truly engaged with it. And toilet talk, lewdness and being gratuitously rude to individual audience members are not in themselves automatically comic.
Personally, I felt that Simon Jay has missed his metier. He undoubtedly has no shortage of creative ideas and a gift for the well-turned phrase, but I feel his approach would be better suited to a gallery of modern art, where the public are accustomed being made to feel uncomfortable, to experience the disturbing and the revolting, than to a theatre. His art would be at home beside Lucian Freud and Jenny Savile.