Cracking up, a black comedy about glueing ourselves together: The Man Who Fell To Pieces, a Fringe review

The Man Who Fell To Pieces, Fairly Odd Productions. Poster image supplied

By Liz Nicholls,

The Man Who Fell To Pieces (Garneau Theatre)

The man we meet in this absurdist black comedy by the Belfast playwright Patrick O’Reilly has gone to pieces. Literally. He’s cracked up, and his body parts are in a bag on his mom’s kitchen table.

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“Are you too warm in there?” she asks him. “Could you speak more clearly?”

His fiancée Caroline (Dayna Lea Hoffman) is all for taking him to the hospital for repair. But Alice (Liz Grierson) has done what any loving mother would do under the circumstances. She’s called a handyman (James Hastings). “You can fix anything,” she says, sending Henry for his tools.   

John (Ben Osgood) appears onstage to introduce himself and tell his story, how he cracked up and ended up in the bag. The storytelling happens in an inventive, highly entertaining whirl of dance and red-nose clowning, circus acrobatics, plate-spinning, and juggling in Kate Sheridan’s production. It introduces a well-named new theatre indie in town, Fairly Odd Productions.

John explains that he started cracking up at work one day. His job? Telephone cold-call life insurance sales. A crack appeared in his face, and one of his ears flew off. That was just the start. “Fractures kept appearing everywhere.”

The more he denies that anything’s wrong, and patches himself together with cellotape and staples, the more he splinters his relationship with Caroline, who’s feels rejected and furious at his lies. They break up. Even his home is cracking up. He comes from a broken home — literally. His single mom regularly smashes up the furniture with her twirling baton so that Henry can come and fix them.

A crack-up is never a one-man show: John is a spreader of chaos; there’s a price to be paid for going it alone.

The four actors, who share a startling skill set, step up impressively to the fast and furious, ever-changing, very demanding physicality of the storytelling. A climactic breakup sequence, in dance, between John and Caroline is a knock-out. And the characters, even the handyman, have dramatic weight and dimension, emotional heft, in this literal deconstruction of a mental breakdown.

The ending, in which John, a one-man crack-up on (temporary) legs, will leave you thinking. A very cool theatrical way to spin a metaphor and be thought-provoking about a serious subject. It speaks in an ingenious, non-hectoring way to a moment in history where we’re all trying to glue the pieces back together.

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