Nothing might live up to the characters’ expectations in Consumables, but I had mine surpassed. Punchy, nuanced and a winning combination of laugh-out-loud silliness, genuine heart and an allusion to something far less comfortable.
Nothing lives up to the characters’ expectations in Matthew Kyne Baskott’s brilliantly bolshie Consumables, back at the King’s Head Theatre after a brief debut earlier in the year. Nowt: from the edibility of the curry (much spicier than anticipated), to the height of Leonard’s internet idol (definitely not 6’2), to the outcome of his sexual fantasy (significantly less messy than his victim seems to desire).
Leonard is a perfect contradiction, metamorphosing effortlessly (perhaps unsettlingly) between three disparate states. One: the ultimate paternal figure (something which lost soul Blaize clearly lacks and requires). Two: a wide-eyed and childlike figure of innocence, with no idea quite what to do, or what he wants, next. Three: a state that is significantly less comfortable, or easy to define; one tinged with violence and seemingly deep-rooted in intense sexual frustration, and one would assume, oppression. Perhaps what makes the first 2-or-so minutes of Consumables among the most compelling, is Timothy Harker’s ability to embody all three. A fleeting moment, in which Harker takes a swift – fairly piercing – intake of breath before beginning to dust his living room, was one example for me of the looming, and underlying, violence. The character isn’t quite as sweet, or hopeless, as we may be led to believe.
Hinging around this impressively-realised central character, with credit due to an astonishingly disciplined and sensitive performance from Harker, Consumables manages a huge amount considering its brevity. And as per the subversion of character expectations, nothing is quite what it seems – or comfortable – for the audience either.
Surreal and playfully obscene, the play’s set-up rightly elicits some of the loudest laughs I’ve heard in a pub theatre all year. Moments, particularly those involving supporting character Mrs Joseph, even push the play into farce-like territory – and the awkwardness of this very unlikely threesome’s interactions is well-pitched and genuinely entertaining.
But to label Consumers a quirky comedy and draw the line there would be to ignore the underlying anger and/or discontent that – for me, at least – marks it apart from many queer fringe offerings. Frequent moments, ironically often not the ones when a character waves the knife around, are profoundly unsettling – and a real sadness, feeling of inadequacy and deep-seated loneliness that is perhaps suggested to underpin many contemporary LGBT lived experiences. Susan Aderin shines as the well-meaning but eternally in-the-wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time neighbour (her ‘I’m not foreign’ quip being a particular highlight), but even her character appears tinged with a lonely sadness and real primal desire for human connection. Particularly sad, perhaps, when she drops into conversation that there is a Mr Joseph at home, and he doesn’t seem to be satisfying that need.
A punchy, nuanced and appropriately uncomfortable look at the desire and perils of connection, the characters within Consumables may not be able to locate much that lives up to their expectations. But I had mine surpassed.