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The Pretender
Published on Friday, 26 August 2011

2 stars

Underbelly, Cowgate (venue website)
4-14, 16-28 Aug, 1:45pm-2:45pm
Reviewed by Sarah Hill

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

The night before his wedding, a man wakes and spins into a blind panic. These are not regular pre-nuptial jitters, however, but something far less innocent: The Pretender is the story of a pathological liar whose guilt-ridden confessions, triggered from this moment of heightened anxiety, soon come flooding out in one long, clumsy torrent.

Through various styles of delivery, fused with movement and projection, the life of this lost soul is mapped out through the lies; from muddled childhood experiences to the cross-roads of his present moment. Yes, he’s lied to his wife, but also everyone else he’s ever cared for – and as soon becomes apparent, even us, the audience. How can we ever trust his word, even now, as he admits the ‘truth’?

This is the feeble twist to an underwhelming and indulgent one-man show. “I feel like I don’t really know you,” laments his wife – and by implication, all of us. Yet, unlike his long-suffering fiance, it is unlikely that the average spectator will genuinely care about this character or, indeed the consequences of his actions. And that is The Pretender’s major downfall.

For a piece that reads a little like an hour-long confession, it’s integral that the audience listen attentively and – first and foremost – feel for the character in his hour of need. There is a taste of this at the outset: speaking directly to the audience in the manner of a stand- up comedian, Andy Godfrey encourages us to invent lies about ourselves. It’s mildly amusing and endearing, and wins us round for a good few minutes. Yet the piece quickly falls into a series of clunky vignettes, from which it fails to recover, not helped by Godfrey’s self-conscious stage presence and awkward physicality.

The redeeming strength of The Pretender is its use of visuals. A fragmented screen behind Godfrey is the backdrop for some well-constructed short films – some of which are darkly disturbing, and loosely reminiscent of cult film-makers The Brothers Quay. Though Godfrey’s interactions with the projections were a little heavy-handed and unnecessary, the piece is certainly visually engaging.

Yet nothing could distract from the weakness of the writing. This devised piece would have benefitted hugely from a decent text as a foundation to build on. Bland dialogue aside, I couldn’t overlook its apparent contradictions; the motivation of this character – “the pretender” – for lying in the first place is to disguise the sad mediocrity of his existence, but he also proves to have profound lack of imagination. Godfrey’s character isn’t as sharp, cunning or charming as he should be to make a convincing fibber: the memories that he recounts, whether true or false, are cliche-ridden and, in fact, distinctly “average.” His desperate attempts to seem “amazing” are thin on the ground, unless you count the cringe-worthy play at being a spaceman.

It’s hard to know for certain what the intentions of The Pretender are – it seems anxious to appear clever, and yet continually adopts an almost forced sense of silliness. The piece succeeds in painting the portrait of an unlikeable man never fully matured from adolescence, but one I couldn’t convince myself I cared for. Though some isolated elements are striking, there is a general lack of clarity here that, unfortunately, left me feeling disappointed and confused.

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