Do you know the most magical words a theatre reviewer can hear? “The show is 50 minutes long with no interval.” Not only does this mean I’ll get home at a reasonable time, but it also means the writer and actor(s) really have their work cut out in creating character(s) and a story that can be brought to life in less than an hour. I couldn’t do it, but Marcus Bateson has with his one-act play Outlier at the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley.
James (Conor Murray), a 19-year-old student has a secret, or does he? Like many with a major secret, he sometimes convinces himself that it really isn’t one but is just a dream. The problem is that no matter how much he denies its existence, the secret is always there, at the back of his mind. Things date back to a Grindr hook-up which, like so many things, started off as a good idea and then turned into something unexpected and bad, leaving James with negative feelings about himself, feelings that eat away at him and make him question everything about himself.
50 minutes is a short time to grab an audience and get them fully engaged with the character, and Writer/Director Marcus Bateson has certainly done so. James’ opening remarks about the problems of hiding a secret brought back so many memories to me, someone that spent a long time so far back in the closet I was plaiting Aslan’s mane, and I could immediately appreciate what he was saying. Couple this with a similar Grindr experience and I was hooked. It helped that the excellent writing was enhanced not only by Conor Murray’s performance but also by excellent sound and lighting – designed by Theo Foley and Ferdy Emmet, respectively.
Conor really knows James as a character and throws himself wholeheartedly into his performance which is at times very physical. He also has excellent comic timing and really brings out the many humorous aspects of the writing. I also really liked the use of a microphone at moments, from Conor’s initial opening through to James’ conversation with his mum who, without hearing her side, came across as a loving parent who was always going to be there for her son – just like a mother should be. James’ flatmate was also portrayed using the microphone and that worked really well in giving the impression of an opinionated, too fond of his own voice, annoying person for whom the capitalist patriarchal world, etc needs to change, except when it affects him obviously. A great, if irritating, character though I would question why James would be living with such a person, especially as they seem to have a lot of other friends. A minor point but it did jar with me a bit.
The story reflects so much of gay life today. The rise of the Apps has led to a loss of LGBT+ venues and cruising spaces has led to a de-personalised online world of gay hook-ups where instant gratification is literally at your fingertips. If I’m honest, when I first found out what had happened to James, I was surprised as I was expecting something much worse and initially thought he was making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill. But, as I followed his story and the effect of the incident on him, I realised I was seriously in the wrong. Whatever happened and irrespective of how it happened, at the heart of the story is how James was made to feel and how he saw himself afterwards, and all my sympathies went out to him.
Outlier is a first-rate piece of writing that has been translated from page to stage brilliantly by a very talented and committed actor and creative crew. I would have loved it to be longer as I was so drawn into James’ story and life and left the theatre hoping he would find the courage to talk to someone, get closure on the incident and live a long and happy life.
Review by Terry Eastham
James struggles to remember what is real and what is imaginary, after meeting a guy he wishes he hadn’t.
A lonely university student from rural Ireland, James attempts to deflect the events of a dark night, with stories of his astrology-obsessed friend, his performatively woke flatmate, and a new overpriced mindfulness app he’s just discovered.
Conor Murray performs in this energetic one-person show confronting gay online hook-up culture, rainbow capitalism and issues of consent with humour, honesty and nuance.
Outlier by Marcus Bateson
Creative Team: Written and Directed by Marcus Bateson
Movement Direction by Charlotte O’Reilly
Sound Designed by Theo Foley
Lighting Design by Ferdy Emmet
Creative Producer: Conor Murray
Promotional Imagery: Páraic McLean
Produced by Mac Tíre Theatre Company
Tuesday 25 – Saturday 29 July 2023 at 7.30 pm Running time: approximately 50 minutes with no interval