I first came across Golden Age Theatre’s Tales From The Golden Age about two months ago when I watched and thoroughly enjoyed a monologue called Denial. It featured actor Neil Summerville as an unhinged anti-vaxer conspiracy theorist giving an exceptionally good performance. When I browsed through the other Tales it transpired that he’s pretty much a regular for the series so I thought it would be good to put two of his pieces together and check out his range. As ever both plays are written and directed by Ian Dickson Potter who has done a grand job in introducing us to two more of his well constructed characters who draw you in only to repel you with their stance on life.
Given that there’s a lot in the news currently about the operational methods of the police, Confession could not have been more timely. Summerville plays Detective Sergeant Dunderdale trying to solve the killing of two teenage boys. His boss is on his case and so he decides to provide a solution and isn’t choosy about letting little things like evidence, justice and the truth get in the way of a conviction; if the DNA samples don’t stack up then they must be manipulated until they do. And if he can appease his prejudices against other races and alternative sexualities by putting the wrong man in the frame then who is really going to mind? It’s a quite horrifying tale as we hear how Dunderdale apparently casually manipulates circumstances to get the result he’s after even going to the extent of enlisting help from a known criminal to achieve his highly perverted sense of “justice”. The piece is constructed as a series of short scenes each with more disturbing revelations than the last. The thing is that somehow it all seems so believable.
Summerville is in top form here creating another monster hiding beneath a cloak of respectability. His obvious prejudices emerge early with a jarring reference to “bongo bongo land” and his sneering dismissal of “queers” but it is only as the monologue progresses that the actor reveals a bedrock of evil intent. He confides his manipulation of events to us in generally measured tones arrogantly assuming that we will a) understand and b) concur with his attitudes and actions. I liked the trope of him always appearing with a drink in hand – plenty of alcohol but also tea/coffee/cocoa (or was that simply more booze?) and assumed that was leading us somewhere – it wasn’t but it was a nice character touch all the same. Dunderdale is a loathsome and even quite dangerous individual; Summerville’s skill is in making him someone so watchable even as we are repulsed.
The same actor plays the also packed with prejudices Trevor in Trivial Dispute; he turns out to be equally appalling but fascinating. Trevor is a self made millionaire (times three, as it happens) being a kingpin in the sunbed tanning salon business. He’s retired to Surrey and is the perfect embodiment of the little Englander Brexiteer figure we have become used to hearing about in the last five years exhibiting a similar strain of scattergun prejudices as Dunderdale in the previous piece. This is exemplified by his collection of classic cars all of which are, naturally, British through and through. Into village life comes the more liberal lecturer and “remoaner” Euan who has a Malaysian wife and who also has a collection of classic cars – but these are all European which Trevor refuses to work on. Battle lines are swiftly drawn, though at first it’s all a passive aggressive war conducted through a ridiculous tussle over the leadership of a Facebook group. Events soon get out of hand and it’s not too long before things become far more serious.
It’s another horribly enjoyable performance from Summerville who, it’s beginning to seem, revels in presenting us with compellingly repulsive people who think they can excuse themselves via confession but who condemn themselves out of their own mouths at every turn. He makes Trevor into a fully believable character with little vocal tics and gestural nuances which quickly give us the measure of the man but somehow like the Ancient Mariner he compels us to listen to his tale. The piece is another confession with a neat twist as to the identity of the confessional figure.
These two monologues are well worth catching up on and feature an actor with a great deal of skill. There are two more pieces in the series which feature Summerville and I’ll be picking up on these before too much longer has passed. As one is based on Shakespeare’s villain Iago and the other is called The Triumph Of Evil it seems like more human monsters are certainly on the cards.
Confession and Trivial Pursuit are available on the Golden Age Theatre website – click here – and also via Scenesaver – click here
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