Arts Review: Sam Rowe presents: Denton and Me

Dir. Nicholas Bone, The Arches, 24th-26th February

There’s something very appealing about plays with only one actor. The dark intensity of a sustained interior monologue has an undeniable glamour to it, and there’s an always an expectation that the energy of the performance will be cranked up a few notches. Sam Rowe’s dramatization of a would-be playwright’s tussles with loneliness and isolation in the heart of London’s gay scene captures this whole-heartedly, without becoming overbearing or gimmicky.

Partly based on the diaries of writer Denton Welch and partly autobiographical, Rowe’s performance gives an unusually vivid insight into the peaks and troughs of everyday existence. He captures the challenge of reconciling the desire for meaningful companionship with the impersonal and relentless pace of urban life in a manner that is at times thoughtful, at times funny, and at times deeply moving.

Rowe has the natural command of a storyteller, as well as an impressive versatility and comic ease as an actor that allows him to bring to life various caricatures from his encounters in the gay scene, with hilarious and poignant results. Although the opening dialogue threatens to become a bit trite in its quasi-existential tone, any initial scepticism on the part of the audience goes out the window with the convincing emotional honesty of the script.

The studio space is small, but the performance creates its own odyssey. A simple but gorgeous set containing a mish-mash of the kind of clutter that builds up in any dysfunctional twenty-something’s bedroom spills over towards two angular window frames, and becomes  a restaurant, a nightclub, and the city streets. Rowe’s physicality in navigating these imagined spaces is dynamic and compelling. The intricate texturing of lighting and sound is also extremely evocative, bombarding the audience with the claustrophobia that can prevail in such environments, as well as giving a sense of an individual’s ability to transcend the space that contains them.

It’s impossible not to be fully immersed in this tale of fraught love and longing. Rowe displays true substance as a writer and performer, and is definitely a name to watch for the future.

[Cat Acheson – @cat_acheson]

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