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Who Did I Think I Was?
Published on Saturday, 26 May 2012

4 stars

Upstairs at Three and Ten (venue website)
25-26 May, 1:00pm-1:50pm, 7:00pm-7:50pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Suitable for age 15+ only.
 Warning: Contains strong language.
 World Premiere.
 2-for-1 tickets for Friends of the Fringe members.

As the script points out early on, Who Did I Think I Was? is a play about "two men sharing digs"; but forget any thoughts of college capers, because these men are father and son.  Both have suffered tragedies, and both have ended up alone - though both have a lot of happy memories to share. And both are played by a single actor, Peter Henderson, which means their stories are told through a series of interleaved monologues spanning several years.

As I know from reviewing his previous work, Henderson does comically annoying mannerisms very well.  In this case, as the father, he sneezes, grumbles continually, and describes everything he's doing out loud; it's to Henderson's credit, both as actor and playwright, that he has the courage to repeat the same joke over and over and make it funnier every time. But of course, Dad has hidden depths - he flew a Spitfire in the War - and the script brings out a few moments of thought-provoking tenderness, though I did feel this aspect of his character could be more strongly played.

The son, perhaps, is more fleshed out: he's got an interesting and predictably troubled past, which emerges in measured doses over the course of the play. He has a few comic moments of his own - including a thoroughly passable Mick Jagger impersonation - and at one point rescues a flagging pace with a glorious rant on the annoyances of sharing someone else's space (though I'm totally with his dad on the right way to hang the toilet roll). Generally, though, the son's had a difficult life, and it's his story we learn the most from - particularly when the script cleverly meshes his comments with his father's, giving us a second perspective and a subtler point of view.

If I've one criticism of Henderson's generally-impeccable performance, it's that the two characters aren't clearly enough distinguished: they're a bit too much "like father, like son".  The younger man could do with a few mannerisms of his own, and perhaps a more obviously different physical presence, to complete the illusion of two people on stage. The script also suffers a little from having two endings, as each of the men's personal stories comes to a close - it leaves the final scene feeling like a postscript, which is a shame, because it's really what carries the whole message of the play.

Overall, though, Who Did I Think I Was? is a compelling piece of theatre, which is bound to improve even further as Henderson develops into his role. I'm not sure it has a particular moral - except for obvious one that life can be hard, and we need to face it together - but I'm not sure that really matters, either.  It's a story worth telling, about characters whose fates came to matter to me, and the bittersweet ending is delivered with just the right amount of manly emotional reserve.  No need for me to reserve my praise, though: Henderson's impressed me in the past and, emphatically, he's done it again.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.