Thom Pain (based on nothing)

8 May

I try to avoid appearing as one of those self proclaimed experts who compare performances. You know the type. They say things like “I preferred the third grave digger in the ’28 production. Olivier. At the Old Vic. Oh, didn’t you see it?”

Well, the last time I saw Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing) was in 2009. Luke Mullins. Downstairs Belvoir. Oh, didn’t you see it?

Mullin’s Thom was more aggressive than the current Thom, played by David Jeffrey in this SITCO production, directed by Julie Baz.

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Mullin’s was more lash out, than lash in (a play on words I’ve taken from Eno’s brilliant script.) Jeffrey is more inward, more self-deprecating. His performance is touching and very, very funny.

The title is an intriguing entree to the world of the play. The ‘Pain’ is obvious: Thom is disconnected. He speaks of himself in the third person. He refers to a past romantic relationship, but we never get her name.

But Thom Pain is also Poor Tom from King Lear. (Eno’s allusion, not mine.) Like Edgar in Lear, who adopts the persona Poor Tom at a time of crisis, Thom finds in ‘madness’ a type of security. His uproarious ramblings are much more structured than one might initially imagine, and his stories are sharper than any vulnerable tear-laden sharing. This one man show will not leave you feeling you’ve accidentally stumbled into some sort of support group. Thom is very much in control of his narrative. And, with a lot of laughs, you’re going to hear it his way.

Thom Pain also evokes Thomas Paine. (Or at least it does for me. Maybe I’m more nerd than wanker.) Paine was the English/American radical writer responsible for Common Sense, which fired the American independence movement, and The Rights of Man, which defended the French Revolution’s dream of liberty, equality and fraternity. He was a man deeply dissatisfied with the existing order, a man who demanded we could do better. Perhaps predictably, he died estranged from many of his contemporaries. Only six people attended his funeral. Eno’s Thom Pain could conceivably share the same fate.

But I don’t want to push this allusion too far. Eno’s Thom is more existential in his pain. More self centred.

And one of the things that makes this play so very dazzling is its dynamic and endlessly inventive word play. Eno takes simple idiomatic expressions, and inverts them, reverses them, pulls them inside out. (One small example, no doubt misquoted: “I didn’t know where I was, but I know I wasn’t in love.”) Idiomatic language is our companion in the everyday (and so, oddly, an intimation of the eternal). It speaks our common humanity. But Thom is betrayed by this common humanity. Or is he the traitor?

Either way, in this production, the result is hilarious.

Veronica Kaye


Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno

Old Fitzroy til 10 May

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