“You’re not going to like this”
Well, you might. If a healthy dose of Franco-Russian existential angst is your thing, or the chance to see Harry Lloyd deliver a wonderfully intense 70 minute-long monologue at very close quarters tickles your fancy, then Notes From Underground could well be for you. Equally, if cramped and uncomfortable seating irks (and at these prices, it really ought to), then the hour of angst you experience might very well be your own.
The Print Room has recently relocated to the atmospheric but abandoned Coronet cinema in Notting Hill and this one-man show, adapted by Lloyd and French director Gérald Garutti from Dostoyevsky’s novella, is the debut show in these new surroundings. The building is clearly a work in progress and clearly has much potential, not least in its rich history not only as a former picturehouse but a theatre too, so one might be inclined to forgive a little discomfort on the derrière.
And I did, for the first 40 minutes or so anyway. The entrance into the show is brilliantly disarming – seated by ushers, we’re also welcomed in by the bedraggled figure of a man sat on a decaying armchair upstage, waving manically and boring into our souls from the off with a deep baleful gaze. As he begins to speak, it is clear that he’s not necessarily all there having cloistered himself away from society for 20 years to work on deciphering the meaning of life if not ensuring all of his marbles are still in his possession.
Lloyd’s delivery is almost hypnotically rat-a-tat-tat at first as he shuttles from apparent lucidity and fevered mania, often contradicting himself several times in a sentence only to loop back around to the original statement. And as his narrator rails against the state of the world (as was, but also in many ways as still is), against humanity and the fallibility of the individual, against him and us and him again, it is hard not to get swept up in his labyrinthine trains of thought, guided by the subtle textures of Bertrand Couderc’s lighting and Bernard Vallery’s creeping sound design.
Once he moves to a recounting of the events that led him to become a hermit in his St Petersburg apartment (there’s a girl, there’s always a girl), the show’s latter stages lacked something of the same compelling vigour as the spell it had cast began to wore off. The format is undoubtedly relentlessly demanding and despite the best efforts of the raggedly bearded but still huge charismatic Lloyd, my attention did begin to wander, mainly to thoughts of the numbness of my bum. I was tired though and it was the second show of the night for me (after the nearby The Edge of Our Bodies) so it’ll be interesting to see how others take to it.