A torrent of industrial language erupts from somewhere around the corner, and a burly carpenter hauls a window-frame onto the stage. With a hammer in his hand and the f-word never far from his lips, actor-playwright Tom Dussek gets straight down to work – straight into his monologue, straight into his anecdotes, and straight into a fine impersonation of Brian Blessed. What follows is a well-constructed hour of humour and poignancy, and an able riposte to anyone who’s ever caught themselves looking down on the humble working man.
The whole show, in fact, makes mildly uncomfortable viewing for those of us who value our heads more than our hands. A powerful-looking man, much of Dussek’s monologue explores a theme of emasculation – the reversal of an ancient pecking-order, which would once have placed his physical abilities at the top of society’s pile. It’s often very funny (look out for the moment when he imagines himself strangling a woolly mammoth), but there’s a well-judged sorrowfulness to it too. He enjoys working on a building site, he tells us, but it’s cost him a lot – and left him with little hope for a more comfortable future.
However, I couldn’t help noticing an irony here. This site-specific play isn’t really hosted on a building site, but in a distinctly chic-looking community wood salvage yard – the kind of place I imagine would attract our working-class hero’s disdain. And there’s a slight whiff of Guardian-reader angst underpinning some of the monologue; Dussek left me moved, and occasionally squirming, but not particularly enlightened or surprised. I’m squarely in the social group which he’s set out to chastise, so it’s a shame that I ended up without any clear idea of what he actually wanted me to do.
Unless, of course, he just wanted me to enjoy myself. Dussek is a confident, personable performer, who on the night I attended improvised cheerfully around a few inevitable early-run glitches. He needs to dial up the volume a notch – sometimes I struggled to hear – but his vocal work is otherwise superb, with his effortless parodies of class-based accents a recurring highlight of the play. I’ve never actually set foot in a branch of Screwfix, for example, but I still felt I recognised the procession of customers he imagined approaching the counter, from the DIY weekend warrior to the all-too-earnest member of a Brighton arts collective.
In the end, there’s a lot that’s tasty in this particular tin: fine acting, easy humour, and some moments of unexpected tenderness too. The obscenity count is extraordinary, and a few of the details were still roughly-hewn, but there’s no doubting Tom Dussek’s talent both as a performer and a playwright. Above all, this small-scale bare-bones production reminded me that skill and endeavour can add up to success at the Fringe. And in the rest of life? Well, we just have to hope so.