Where Do Men Go to Grieve?

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Daniel Hallissey's In the Shadow of the Black Dog

Brighton Fringe | Brighton

directed by Conor Neaves

Daniel Hallissey’s semi-autobiographical one-man show on grief and masculinity offers a lot of soul searching on what it's like to be a man in the twenty-first century. “Where do men go to grieve?” is the question posed by Alquist, the protagonist of All The Pigs’ production of In the Shadow of the Black Dog. A question that also serves as the show’s thesis as we deep dive into the mind and, in its scatalogical opening scene, body, as we witness one man’s internal and external struggles with grief. Based on writer and solo performer Daniel Hallissey's real-life experiences, we follow Alquist, as he recalls the loss of his close friend, Jake. His grief is compounded further by guilt when, recalling his last encounter with his friend, at a pub watching a football game, he distractedly (or perhaps wilfully) shrugs off his friend’s desperate attempts to connect with him; a plea for help sadly heard too late.

Alquist's past and present unravel, as does his unsettled state of mind. The dramatic function of revisiting the past highlights the frozen, arrested development of our protagonist, although the minimal set (a table and chair) becomes somewhat ironically distracting the more items are mentioned.

Hallissey gives a sensitive performance and is an affable, puppyish presence. Scenes zoom into the next, each one preceded by a whooshing sound as fast as the thoughts flying through our protagonists’ erratic and self-conscious psyche. So too does Hallissey, with a bullet-time, albeit too rushed, delivery.

Towards the second half, this solipsism becomes slightly repetitive. Its episodic nature means the play doesn’t outstay its welcome, but only adds up to a collection of colourfully coded vignettes. Welcome moments of humour highlighting the absurdity in grief include a particularly amusing public outburst at a funeral. Other moments are less benign, such as a sex-and-drugs-fuelled encounter with a former flame. While dark and interesting, it raises the question of a misstep on the character's part. Designer Pete Butler’s lighting radiates purples and yellows, by turns smooth and sharp, illuminating the volatility of our increasingly unhinged and self-loathing central character.

Hallissey does know how to craft a good line, whether it be a mid-coitus quip, or acute observations on the codependence of life and death, and the human condition (“It is our capacity for pain that allows us to feel love”). But for a character so interrogative, it feels mildly implausible that the self-awareness he lacks is his opening up to others. This duality of dialogue and unreliable narrator device has been used before, successfully, in other works to navigate these contradictions in character. Here it leaves a lack of clarity.

At one point, a girlfriend calls Alquist a ‘man-child’, but the play never pushes that line further in pursuing the perceptions of the character. It dabbles in challenging our sympathies, but at times stops itself short, finally retreating in its cathartic and hopeful last act.

The show is most effective when punctuated by the absence of dialogue. Images start to speak more. When Alquist lies on a table which could doubly serve as a coffin, he’s bathed in a warm, golden light; his hand reaching up in the air, grasping for something, anything. And there is a nice touch in Conor Neaves’ detailed direction when Alquist speaks to others over the phone, the back of the mobile turned to face the audience - the small, solitary camera as the only other eye left for communication.

The good intentions of exploring the internal push-and-pull anxiety of millennial masculinity sincerely is to be credited. A tale worth telling for sure, but one that requires more shading.

photo | ©All the Pigs

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