Sometimes, rather than carefully planning what to watch, it’s refreshing to just take a punt and see what you come up with. One of the best places to do just that is the Scenesaver website which specialises in making available small scale fringe productions. In the few months since it became established the site has really ramped up the number of productions which are available. To be honest what drew me towards An Idea Come To Me was the ungrammatical nature of the title. Once an English teacher, always an English teacher!
It turned out to be one of those shows that is difficult to describe as its part play, part family memoir, part fantasy, part stand-up routine and all put over by just one person, the show’s writer/performer Richard Popple. The show’s title is based on an email subject line sent to him by his uncle Tony, a man who is in his 70s caring for a man in his 90s (Popple’s grandfather) who has lived in the same house all his life and travelled virtually nowhere. However, this clearly hasn’t diminished his powers of imagination as he has conceived of something called Space Dominoes. Knowing his nephew to be a writer, Tony has sent the idea on to him in order for it to be developed. Popple suggests the two of them join forces to write a script and much of the play is taken up with an extended anecdote about how this is achieved. Along the way this seemingly odd couple discover not only the mysteries of writing sci-fi but form a new found bond between them; the development of their relationship runs parallel to the development of the fictional plot. Periodically we are shown one-man versions of the burgeoning and often redrafted script which centres on Professor Job a physics teacher obsessed with all things astronomical and one of his pupils Charlie. While on a school skiing trip the duo (much like the two writers) form a bond of their own and in the end go on to save the universe.
The show, which lasts less than an hour, is very simply staged in a black box setting at Camden People’s Theatre with the odd costume and prop being retrieved from a trunk onstage. Popple nicely differentiates the characters in both stories and there is good use made of lighting to indicate where the narrative changes from one track to another. Lasers and dry ice effects are employed in the staging of the Space Dominoes sequences with hints at what is clearly conceived of as a spectacular ending. However, I found the personal aspects of the show more interesting and appealing than the somewhat hackneyed fictional tale though I’d venture that was the intended effect. Popple is an interesting performer as he flits about between his own persona and those of the other people in his main story and the play within a play. His sense of comedy and of the ridiculous often comes to the fore but he can do serious too when he contemplates the restricted and unselfish life his uncle has led in caring for the grandfather at the expense of living his own life.
I can’t honestly say that the piece bowled me over, but it was a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and had me thinking about the nature of playmaking. An Idea Come To Me is as much a title to explain Popple’s experience as it is the subject of an email as he puts together something which he hopes will resonate with his audience. It’s a salutary and timely reminder that in these days of high-tech showmanship that sometimes all you really need are “two planks and a passion”.