It was the girl in the bathroom stall after watching Him at The Basement Theatre who summed it up best, “I just have so many feelings about it. I think I need to go home and think about it.”
I felt rather the same.
Him is Barnie Duncan’s award-winning solo show, on for a brief but extended season at The Basement. Set exclusively in the small apartment of a reclusive newspaper hoarder, the audience is led into the loft space and invited to sit on the periphery of the space, atop a variety of seats and ottomans all covered in newspapers (it would not be a show to wear white pants to). The walls are completely papered in newsprint, the window is likewise covered, and there are scraps and wads of newsprint scattered about the floor. One panel is covered entirely with crosswords, and there are some topical references on show; a full page portrait of Robin Williams, and unsurprisingly plenty of political headlines.
The show kicks off when Duncan as the recluse emerges from under a pile of newspaper ‘blankets’, from a bed which he shares with a shirt stuffed with paper (a ‘girlfriend’, perhaps) and we are introduced to the intricate collection of eccentricities that define this lone character in his word-filled silent world. There was much ritual around the daily delivery of the paper, and his obsession with the news is played out as he pores over the pages and sections. There is some extremely clever staging throughout the show, with a variety of props fashioned from paper on stage that slowly take shape and have the audience grinning in delight as we recognise what he is creating. With the audience seated right around the performance space we got to enjoy each other’s reactions as a part of the show.
Whimsy and subtle humour and emotion aside, Him was not a perfect show. Beyond the crafted cleverness and indisputable magnetism of Duncan, I didn’t find the narrative especially captivating. However, like the girl in the bathroom, I did find I wanted re-examine it in my own head.
Him is beautiful, and rather moving as we get a small glimpse into the world of someone on the very far fringes of society.
Reviewed by Natalie Ridler.