Next! is a one-man dark comedy on its second outing. Devised by actor Graham Hicks and director Chris Tomlinson, it first came to the Unity last year as part of its Making Art programme. Its recent two night run to rapturous audiences showed it had been well worth developing further.
Hicks plays, well, Graham Geoffrey Hicks, a would-be actor who bolts himself away in his flat, so afraid of rejection he distracts himself in every conceivable way to avoid answering the telephone. Taken to flights of fancy, we see him amusing himself with a string of bold audition-type sketches, a stark contrast to the gibbering wreck he becomes once the spotlight turns on him.
With elements of clowning, slapstick, farce and drama, the show rests on Hicks’s performance, a study of acting that ends up being something quite remarkable. At the beginning, it’s slightly odd seeing someone you recognise seemingly playing ‘himself’. But after an hour of being submerged in Graham’s world, all that has fallen away; Hicks has done it all and truly, convincingly become the character.
Graham is a loveable loser, effectively a one-man sitcom. Confined to a scruffy, cheaply-furnished flat, the script is reminiscent of Galton and Simpson, capturing that feeling, as in Steptoe and Son, that he is trapped in a situation he is destined never to get out of. Graham’s is a world of cassette tapes and dial-up telephones, which only adds to that sense of him being isolated and out of time.
With sound design from Patrick Dineen, choreography by Grace Goulding and dramaturgy by Joe Munrow (whose debut play Held is also currently on at the Playhouse Studio), Graham is a man of few words, happier lip-syncing showtunes or amusing himself making unappetising sandwiches, Morecambe and Wise style. Eventually, a stab at trying a stand up routine leads to revealing all the pent-up sadness and anger that explains his strange life.
A moving piece of well-crafted theatre full of bittersweet laughs, Next! is a must for lovers of intelligent comedy and anyone interested in the art of performance.