By: Dec. 03, 2019
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With a title such as The Exceptional Case of Whizz and Drex it's almost a dead cert we're in for something unique and original. This is writer and director Fred Kelly's debut play and it doesn't disappoint.

Whizz (Guy Samuels) runs a parcel storage facility that is quite unlike any other. The business works on the basis that you pay whatever you want, however the higher your price, the more likely you are to get your parcel back in one piece. Amazingly it seems to be doing well. That is until a female visitor arrives and attracts the attention of apprentice Drex (Louis Strong). But who is she and what are her true intentions?

Jack Parham's simple set consists of stacked boxes and dishevelled disarray. With the audience seated in an L shape, it's almost as if we're forming two sides of a box ourselves. We subsequently feel somewhat hemmed in as the simmering tension of the play moves towards boiling point.

This is of course also down to Kelly's pacy and pithy script. It's brimming with laugh out loud dialogue that's loaded with sinister undertones. There are echoes and clear influences of Pinter, particularly in the interactions between Whizz and Drex.

The pace and ominous undertones of the play are facilitated by Jack Graham-Thomas' sound design, which punctuates the end of each scene. Chuma Emembolu's lighting design and frequent use of blackout is also carefully considered and successful in sustaining the atmosphere throughout.

Samuel's masters the swagger of his seedy, pretentious and bullish character. Striding around the stage, seated with his legs across the desk, he oozes self-entitlement and delusions of grandeur. The actor's use of comic timing contrasts nicely with his explosions of anger and perverse and disturbing bullying of Drex. Tormenting him emotionally and physically, some of Whizz's actions are reminiscent of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It's this dark humour that allows the writing and the performances to shine.

There are a number of standout scenes but one in which Whizz cuts himself and makes Drex suck the blood in order to gain a pay rise is beyond uncomfortable to watch, and all the better for it. The scene enables Strong to showcase powerfully realistic emotion. His entire body and face draws our attention.

This is one of many moments the actor deserves plaudits for. Portraying the nervous, awkward and bumbling Drex, Strong works hard to provide a clear distinction between the personalities of the two leads. Making use of well judged physical comedy with some slap stick falls and a repeated moment whereby he sits on a bell permits his character to be both hilarious and endearing.

There are numerous idiosyncrasies to Drex and the actor, who also produced the play, relishes the role. Observant viewers will notice him miming Whizz's phone spiel and see that each and every facial expression, even a mere flicker, carries weight. It's an enthralling performance.

Ellen Patterson offers down to earth warmth as visitor Nadi. The actress again demonstrates expert comic timing, especially with her awkward interactions with Drex. It's clear from the off that she has Whizz's number but when things turn dark between the two of them, Patterson conveys her fear convincingly.

Kathryn O'Reilly steals every scene she is in. Her character is undoubtedly provided with the most unique and raucous one-liners. Appearing mysteriously and having power over the seemingly untouchable Whizz leaves audience members intrigued as to who this eccentric woman is. The use of time jump for these short, snappy and surreal encounters is a clever device. O'Reilly's use of voice only embellishes the comedy of her character and the actress is clearly having a ball playing her.

The momentum dips a little at times but quickly picks itself back up. Although running at just 75 minutes, the play could perhaps still be filtered down and tightened up in places. That said, the entire ensemble deliver the goods, each bringing something so very different to the table and embracing the very strong material they are provided with.

This is exactly why pub theatres are such an asset, especially in London. Giving a home to innovative new work such as this is to be applauded and long may it continue.

The Exceptional Case of Whizz and Drex at Old Red Lion Theatre until 7 December

Photo Credit: Harry Neal


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