Mr Incredible follows a man who thinks he is just that – incredible. Adam wanted Holly and he got her. Why shouldn’t he? He’s got a decent job and a flat. He’s good looking – he’s an all round nice guy. He deserves her. Doesn’t he?
Camilla Whitehill’s script builds like a wave, slowly but inevitably pushing the play towards its grisly conclusion, when all our preconceptions of Adam come crashing down. It is a subtle and carefully crafted piece of writing, which explores the extent of male entitlement through the ‘good guy’, a mate – the one you’d never suspect. Adam doesn’t think he’s a bad guy either, unable to recognise the myriad ways in which he is slowly manipulating Holly, eroding her confidence, identity and ambition. He genuinely believes that he is just trying to take care of Holly. He idolises her, he loves her – yet like a possession, he feels confident that she will eventually conform to his expectations.
Although very different shows, the subject matter shares striking similarities with Katie Bonna’s All The Things I Lied About, which also explores the effect of psychological abuse on women. The male characters in both shows seem completely unaware that what they are doing is abuse, their belief in themselves as ‘good guys’ and their sense of entitlement, that they somehow deserve something from these women, trumps that sinking feeling that what they are doing is wrong and harmful.
Adam (Alistair Donegan) addresses the audience directly in this dramatic monologue, unsettling us and demanding our full attention. Under director Sarah Meadows, his performance is multifaceted, shifting from a relatable every-man to something much more sinister and back again so quickly, we almost wonder if we imagined it. He genuinely seems to miss Holly and he genuinely doesn’t understand what he’s done wrong. Yes, he was angry but that’s only because her behaviour made him angry. He isn’t an inherently nasty person and this production doesn’t paint him as a villain. It is the society he exists in that is most to blame. This isn’t a one-off case. Attitudes in general need to change. The play is at its strongest in its moments of ambiguity, its shades of grey and its understated consideration of every point of view.
Catherine Morgan and Justin Nardella’s design is one of many screens, which distort Adam’s image; including one that he seems to disappear behind. The harsh strip lighting (design by Jamie Platt) above exposes him, but when he leaves he literally changes and becomes slightly different. This represents the play’s theme of perspective – the way things appear differently to how they really are. This doesn’t just apply to Adam’s behaviour. Holly says that she doesn’t mind when Adam tells her about an intern who tried to kiss him at work, but at the Christmas party she brushes her lit cigarette against the girl’s arm. We all have impressions we’d like to give, but sometimes we have to step out from behind the screen and show how we really feel. Music by Benedict Taylor ties the play together beautifully.
This is a quietly ferocious play about control and entitlement and the fragile, self-created images we hide behind. Most importantly, it will spark a much-needed conversation about the sly, pervasive nature of psychological abuse and the societal factors that contribute to its cause.