The smooth jazz played preshow does somewhat lull one into a place. But that is not anything like the place you will be for the next 65 minutes. TONSILS AND TWEEZERS is an obstacle course of a show. What you will experience is a disorienting, fast paced, time shifting offering with the sadness of a secret at its core. Wonderful tech and design combine with acting which expands beyond the scene-shifting to make TONSILS AND TWEEZERS an open-hearted story of a human emotion common to us all.
Tonsils is our narrator, that’s his only name but Tweezers, he has a real name. Lewis was bullied with the nickname, so Tonsils calls him Lewis. And sometimes speaking to us, sometimes to other characters, Tonsils tells us straight up that soon Lewis will suggest a killing. There are two other actors in the drama and they are several other people and entities but survive in the memory as Max and Beth.
After the engaging meeting with our first person narrator and getting a feel for the contrapuntal style of the show, there is a violent and brilliantly created central event. It is sudden, short, swift and ferocious, jolting our complacency while adding to the mystery.
As Tonsils, Travis Jeffery is warm and in the intimate space we connect with him straight away as he speaks directly to us with the disarming boyishness of a younger man. That is part of his charm, his openness and sense of fun. Hoa Xuande’s Lewis is harder to fathom. He is closed and unwelcoming under the hail fellow well met exterior. He seems driven, is nervous and edgy and he’s quite the enigma. It’s clever work from him and late in the show there is a betrayal of Lewis, the power of which is indicative of how Xande has subtly developed a rapport with the audience.
Megan Wilding and James Sweeney are the other two characters and they neatly express the amorphousness of the unnamed individuals who surface during the telling. There is an enjoyable spontaneity in their performances. They laugh and interact, both in and out of scenes which gives the show the immediacy needed to sustain attention through the memory and fantasy. They observe and also enrich the story and as Bath and Max drive the show towards its climaxes.
Having done away with traditional storytelling, TONSILS AND TWEEZERS veers further into complexity by having two climaxes and you don’t need to “love fucked up shit” to get the idea. Michael Abercrombie’s direction builds the tension of Will O’Mahony’s script like an accelerating vehicle yet gives the laughs, and there are many, an organic enjoyability. They spring from the intelligence of the text or the confidence that allows embarrassment its own stillness. He also moves his cast fluidly around the absolutely brilliant black set. (Production Design by Patrick Howe)
The four long, moveable benches open to provide props and participate in the secret as they are slid around the shiny black floor and the foregrounding of white costumes for Tonsils and for Tweezers on the black stage is more pen on paper than any noir. Bespoke walls head each end of the traverse. Solid and blank at one end and the other rendered, uneven and with 3 large screens embedded.
The screens are most often geometric shapes in black and white but the red bars that glide in and wipe out at a few points in the show, make for an uneasiness of viewing in context. The rendered wall around them and the throw of orange lighting on it gives an evocative, decades back, effect of poorly created beaten copper.
Like all the design, the lighting (Liam O’Keefe), using a great deal of white and limiting itself to a narrow palette, is superb. So many thrilling lighting moments, the warmth of the orange and a high UV inside a lightish blue just after first climax and the choice of simplicity for the second climactic moment. Kudos to the operator for the control of the finale cross and for the split second timing of some truly exciting audio effects, the design of which is just marvellous. (Sound Design: James Yeremeyev)
For example, a lesser designer might have used a cheaper, more easily obtained Tibetian Bowl sound effect. Not here. The complexity of that audio sequence, the striking, the ringing and the detail in the fade are just breathtaking to someone like me who hears it.
But my companion didn’t notice the tech, it was just one element of the story whole. She was simply drawn into TONSILS AND TWEEZERS, speeding along with the entirety of the show towards understanding and resolution. And an absorbing disagreement with me on the train home about whether the ending is an ending.