As Joe Nawaz’s latest play ‘Hey You!’ was in the middle of its run with Accidental Theatre, We asked Josh Colquhoun to head along and see what the whole fuss about Brad Peelawn’s seminars was about.
The art of the one-man show is notoriously difficult for any actor to pull off. According to local director Emily Foran, balancing the energy of the actor and enabling them to feel at ease during the duration of the show is a challenge, as is justifying why the central character is there for the audience, telling their story. In spite of this, she says, the intimacy of the rehearsal space with a single actor and indeed the performance is hard to match, having done this earlier this year in Dublin with All The Way.
So we should admire Aaron Hickland’s marvellous performance as motivational guru Brad Peelawn, reminiscent of the classic snake-oil salesman. Hickland bounces around the room and across the stage like a rubber ball, and his energy is incredibly infectious – a massive strength for the show considering its reliance on audience participation. Hey You! is framed as a motivational presentation, and Brad Peelawn invites us in to believe in the superficial nonsense he’s spurting with sheer panache. The intimacy of the small theatre only contributed to this, going as far as to have Hickland arrive in character just before his two-minute call, before going off to change and warm up (in full view of the audience, without his knowing). This opening sketch dragged on slightly longer than it should have however, leaving the obvious punchline hanging.
However, with the performance in full flow, things seemed much more swift, with thirty minutes passing instantly, and this is entirely on Hickland’s energy, which I cannot praise enough. He swiftly warmed up the small crowd, rolled with some awkward silences and had us all chanting meaningless slogans in no time, eventually dragging one “lucky” audience member (read: me) onto the stage for an exercise routine and a discussion of their testosterone. As an actor, I was well-equipped to deal with this, but I could see an average audience member feeling uncomfortable. That said, having a crowd chant “It’s ok Josh, it’s not your fault” may be one of the most oddly comforting, yet surreal things I’ve ever experienced.
“Hickland bounces around the room and across the stage like a rubber ball, and his energy is incredibly infectious – a massive strength for the show considering its reliance on audience participation.”
You’d be forgiven for assuming Hey You! is a fairly run of the mill comedy at this point, but there’s a surprising amount going on under the surface, and Foran’s partnership with Hickland has excellently brought out the key themes from Joe Nawaz’s script – our concepts of masculinity and striving to become the “ideal self” through an increasingly consumerist society are challenged and questioned by the piece. Brad Peelawn is a man out to prove to everyone, himself included, that he’s a man who won’t be ruined by his past, and there’s a remarkable sense of hope, yet severe and sincere sadness in this quest to forget. Foran has expertly extracted these more dramatic sentiments without sacrificing any of Nawaz’s humour (despite her admitted unfamiliarity with the genre), giving a real sense of the psychological impact on this travelling speaker, tapping into the psyche of the person who tells us we’re not simply fine as we are.
Hey You! is a fabulous satire that should not be missed if ever given the chance. As Emily Foran puts it to me, “Hey You! may seem like an educational lecture on nutrition, but so much more is happening within the statistics, gags and giant nets.”