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Captain Amazing
Published on Saturday, 10 August 2013

4 stars

Northern Stage at St Stephen’s
3-5, 7-12 Aug, 8:05pm-9:05pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

As you’ll learn within the first few moments of this heart-warming one-man play, every superhero has to wear a cape. But that’s the only thing that’s conventionally “super” about the titular Captain Amazing. Yes, he can fly, but he’s astonishingly uncharismatic; he often gets tongue-tied, and he’s going rather bald. He is, in short, a perfectly average bloke: a husband, a father, a shop assistant. Those are the things which define this particular superhero’s secret double life.

Playwright Alistair McDowall has penned a sweetly affecting script, knowingly contrasting the Captain’s world-saving escapades with the mundane realities of his life back home.  As time goes on, you’ll work out more about just how Captain Amazing came to exist, and I did often feel I was a couple of steps ahead of McDowall; there’s an air of plot-driven inevitability to a couple of the twists in his tale.  But they still had the power to tug at the heart-strings, and the central message, that we can all play the superhero to the people we love, is one that bears re-stating.

Delivery of McDowall’s script rests in the capable hands of actor Mark Weinman.  Weinman shows a remarkable discipline in corralling his posse of characters, often holding a dialogue with himself as he flips back and forth between two roles.  There were times, though, when I became confused about which character was speaking – the wife, daughter and (strangely) even the Captain himself sometimes sounded similar to me.  More crisply-defined transitions and some clearer visual motifs to accompany each persona would have eliminated that occasional uncertainty.

But once I’d got to grips with who’s who, Weinman’s performance hit the high notes again and again.  He’s saved his most moving persona for the daughter, Emily, whose gentle loss of innocence is a poignant reflection of the disappointments we’ve all suffered in our own lives.  Yet Emily is a hopeful, inspiring figure too, who reassures us in the end that – though we might not quite be superheroes – we’re often valued more than we expect by those we hold dear.

Still, I think the characters I enjoyed the most were the ones who appeared in cameo – from the bouncers who tackle the Captain when he’s at his lowest ebb, to the self-obsessed, insecure Batman.  And in case Weinman ever needs help to set the scene, there are comic-style illustrations on the wall behind him, drawn with a joyful energy by artist Rebecca Glover.  They’re an engaging, vital, but low-key companion to this equally unassuming show… which might not contain any revelations, but serves as an urgent reminder of the important truths of life.

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