One morning, when Fred Hammond awoke from troubled dreams, he found… a giant stone in the middle of his driveway. It’s not the most intuitive of plot devices, but it’s a moment of drama for the unfortunate Fred, who’s on his way to an urgent meeting and can’t get his car through the gap. And so begins a sweetly engaging tale of frustration and acceptance, as Fred comes to terms with both the rock itself and the rough road he’s facing in life.
Rock And A Hard Place is described as “absurdist”, but I’m not sure I agree – and certainly, you shouldn’t let the label put you off. If you overlook the appearance of an unexplained rock, Fred is a perfectly normal, perfectly rational, perfectly everyday man. And at first he does the kinds of things you or I might do, including swearing (a lot), shouting on the phone, and straining his sinews in the futile hope of solving the problem through brute force alone.
But Fred is having a difficult day… and over time, as he stands alone with the rock, he comes to treat the inanimate boulder as a confidant and friend. Fred’s life-story is revealed in well-measured doses, and his imagined dialogues – where the rock plays the part of people he’s met – are surprisingly believable and strikingly affecting. The parts where he’s romancing the stone are the most touching of all.
The first few minutes do grow a little frustrating. The storyline’s slow to emerge, and with very brief scenes punctuated by frequent blackouts, too much time’s spent sitting in the dark waiting for the lights to come back on. But appropriately, for a play that’s partly about finding inner calmness, the script rewards patience. The more you learn of Fred’s past, the more you find yourself rooting for him – wanting him to find a way around or across the metaphorical rocks which block his progress in life.
There’s a lot of gentle humour there as well, both verbal and physical, and actor Simon de Cintra delivers a subtly nuanced performance as he moves from fury to introspection to acceptance. I’d have liked to see a little more light and shade in Fred’s character; while he starts off angry, he’s never less than likeable. But de Cintra’s portrayal eloquently captures a hidden vulnerability, the secret courage we all have to muster when it’s time to face the music.
Perhaps you’ll see the rock as a psychological metaphor, or perhaps you’ll take it simply as the set-up for a well-told tale. Either way, this is a perfectly lovely short play, which delivers laughs and poignancy in roughly equal measure. Disliking it would take a heart of stone.