‘Brave and uncompromising’
Ladies and gentle-germs, may I present the underground man also known as the Ungrateful Biped, perhaps the most cheerfully misanthropic character to cross your path in a long time (and that’s saying something). Created by Dostoyevsky in the 1860s and brought bang up to date by writer and performer Philip Goodhew, our antihero is everything we despise wrapped in one dishevelled suit of a man- bully, coward, slob, waster, ungrateful child, user. And yet there’s something joyful in his utter disdain for everyone and everything. He despised his parents, can’t bear popular culture, the unemployed, the public school system. His sneeringly eloquent observations of his fellow humans are hilarious in their contempt as he bullies and antagonises his way around London. Goodhew gurns and spits into a laptop camera and his distorted face appears on a dilapidated television screen on the floor.
Not satisfied with picking a boy at school he tracks him down as an adult to continue the job. When the tables are turned and the vile biped gets his long-overdue comeuppance it’s pathetic (hurrah for the bullied!) but you can’t help feeling a smidge of pity there too. How miserable it must be to live such a hateful existence.
It’s a tough call to show us such a vile human with zero redeeming features and yet somehow Goodhew has the audience in the palm of his hand throughout. His writing is brave and uncompromising and under Graves’ direction avoids any heavy-handed metaphors.
Apart from the cracking writing, Goodhew is also a veteran and astonishing actor and his performance is confident and nuanced. It’s little wonder that talented actor Rupert Graves chose this play to make his directorial debut. A sheet-hung set complements the tale and creative lighting design from Pablo Fernandez Baz takes us from snowy winter to gentle spring, all with a nod to Dostoyevsky’s original creation. And that, ladies and gentle-germs is how you do fringe theatre. If The Ungrateful Biped doesn’t have a life beyond this run I’ll eat my notebook.
The Ungrateful Biped written and performed by Philip Goodhew
Directed by Rupert Graves, Presented by Milburn Browning
Associates and The White Bear Theatre
White Bear Theatre, until 17th February
Siân Rowland is a playwright and comedy writer represented by Kitson Press. Her latest play Learning To Swim has a rehearsed reading at Greenwich Theatre on February 24th.