What happens when your psychiatrist had more mental problems than you do? That's the question explored by Awkward Productions' Allen, debuting at one of my favourite venues last night, the charmingly dilapidated Queen's Theatre. Written by Stewart McMillan, and performed by McMillan and Luke Richmond, the show is an intriguing but deeply flawed examination of mental illness, addiction and moral equivalency.
The comedic elements are absolutely the strongest parts of the performance, with Richmond animatedly cavorting about the stage and McMillan's impressive range of impersonations and character portrayals. Allen's darkly satirical comedy skewers, with somewhat ghoulish relish, a range of psychological ailments like eating disorders, PTSD and others. The clever aspect of the staging is how the two managed the scene changes, working the practicalities of theatre into the comic appeal of the show – though occasionally the fourth-wall breaking detracted more than it added to the show.
There is some work that could be done on the play. The script frequently meanders off-topic, to tell amusing anecdotes that are difficult to connect to any thematic progression, and the atypical blend of silliness and seriousness can prove more bemusing than amusing. The ultimate twist is satisfying and unexpected, but not necessarily because it was carefully concealed but rather that there was little to no allusion to it in earlier moments, rendering the climax incongruous and manufactured. Likewise, their focus on psychological themes felt at times uninformed, and it's highly doubtful either of the psychologist characters would have ever been provided with a practitioner's license, given their ethical transgressions. Finally, at two hours long with a starting time of 9.30pm, the play will test the endurance of even the most faithful audiences. While this isn't a grievous complaint, there are sections of the play that could be excised to both cut down on the prodigious runtime and provide a more tightly-paced narrative.
There is a great play buried inside of Allen. Both performer's talents are evident, from McMillan's inventive scripting to Richmond's charming slapstick interludes. It needs some heavy polishing, and the merits of staging a long show so late at night could be reexamined, but it's still a highly original and funny study of the demons that we struggle with inside ourselves.