Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Elling" - September 2007 (London)

Based on a Norwegian film of the same name, "Elling" is the title character's struggle to reassimilate into society after a spell in a mental institution. Elling (John Simm) is set up in a flat with Kjell Bjarne (Adrian Bower) who has also been released and the two form a classic odd couple style relationship. Assisted by social worker Frank (Keir Charles) they navigate the difficult route back into 'normal' life. Doesn't sound like bundle of laughs, but they manage to find plenty of them.

Simm is almost unrecognisable from his TV roles, not so much in appearance but in his physical and vocal portrayal of 'Mummy's boy' Elling. He appears weedy and timid - a far cry from his usually strong characters. He brings the character to life with such definition that during the first half of the show I found myself suffering a severe personality clash with Elling. Fortunately as the character developed I found him more sympathetic.

Adrian Bower's Kjell Bjarne provides much of the play's humour as he seeks to experience the outside world (and female company in particular) for the first time. Kjell Bjarne is written fairly two dimensionally but Bower does well with the material.

While Simm & Bower are the star attractions of the production, Keir Charles gives social worker Frank a real sense of depth and we feel his genuine concern for the well being of his charges, and also his frustration at Elling's reluctance to take forward steps. In fact, given my early problems with Elling, it was Charles' performance I found the most enjoyable.

The humour in the piece comes from the characters and the language, with wordplay featuring strongly at times. There's a little slapstick in the mix as well and the best way I can describe the tone is as similar to an episode of "Frasier". With great performances, a genuinely funny script, sympathetic characters and a little to think about it's a wonderfully enjoyable evening. And I couldn't help but feel that "Elling" was everything I had hoped "The Walworth Farce" would be, but wasn't.

Elling runs at Trafalgar Studios in London until 6th October 2007.