A man sits alone, singing a mournful song, and calling out to his beloved, trusted father. We soon learn that this is the Fool, and he’s been foolish indeed; driving while distracted, he’s mown down an elderly man and fled from the scene. We find him now in a shadowy parallel world – a place with its own rules, which are never quite explained – where he’s alternately harassed and aided by the Magician, who brandishes a set of magical objects inspired by the tarot deck.
Playing the Fool, Jamie Rodden has a beautiful singing voice, and it’s sad that the script doesn’t give him more opportunities to use it. But he’s a very capable actor as well; his confusion at the world he now inhabits is beautifully portrayed, as is his touchingly close relationship with his father – a character we never meet, but whose influence is nonetheless strong.
Chris Begg, meanwhile, plays the Magician as an out-and-out showman. His air of relentless bombast grows rather too shouty at times, but he does contrast nicely with the gentle and sensitive Fool. Begg performs some genuine magic tricks at intervals during the show, and while the first one or two feel a little divorced from the storyline, others hit the mark perfectly; one relatively familiar illusion, involving a big spike and some collapsible cups, acquires a clever new sense of high-stakes peril thanks to the Fool’s distress.
As a piece of storytelling Fool is confident, revealing its secrets clearly and gradually. But a couple of key plot twists don’t quite cut it for me. The dilemma which drives the story’s conclusion relies on a massive coincidence – something which, though fundamentally plausible, was improbable enough to threaten suspension of disbelief. And although the script makes a big deal about inner strength and personal responsibility, it resorts to a disappointingly weak cop-out, with a line which reveals that the fatal accident may not have been entirely the Fool’s fault after all.
The ending puzzled me a little too. It’s all set up for a classic time-travel dilemma – the worry that if you change something in the past, you can’t tell what effects it might have on the future – but the intervention the Fool ultimately chooses to make is a somewhat half-hearted one, with a particularly uncertain outcome. Some more understanding of his thought processes would have been welcome here.
Fool does explore some interesting questions, particularly around whether you’d choose to right a wrong if the cost of doing so was a terrible one. And the strange metaphysical world it inhabits lends the whole piece a pleasingly eerie tone. There may be room for a little more development, but it’s a subtly powerful performance from Rodden, beautifully offsetting the impressive bravura from magician Begg.