It may not always be easy to keep up with Douglas Hodge as he spirals, sometimes seemingly faster than light, into a heap of paranoia in John Osborne’s surreal nightmarish drama, but his intense performance never once loses your attention.
As a lawyer on the verge of a breakdown at the centre of Osborne’s 1964 play, Hodge undertakes a complete transformation, working his way through a million and one expressions, grimaces and voices that leave the audience exhausted just watching him.
Set in a Soutra Gilmour-designed dusty law office, where everything, including the mouthy secretaries, seems to be furnished in autumnal shades of beige, yellow and green, Bill (Hodge) is under investigation not only by law officials, but also by his own ever-increasingly fractured psyche.
Brash, sexist, loud and hyperactive, Bill sweats, fidgets and insults his way through the day; pushing his colleagues to the limit with scathing comments, bottom squeezes and mockery. The king of procrastination, he is inspired by any small distraction to embark on a rant of epic proportions, picking at his seeming revulsion for humanity or his own failings as a person.
No one is left unscarred: his preppy son is compared to a priest; he declares his do-gooder daughter will sell her virginity to Oxfam; and he impersonates his hapless young employee as a snivelling Oxbridge suck-up.
Never has a play so depressing been so funny. The supporting cast, who get few lines in between Hodge’s numerous self-deprecating musings, provide Hodge not only with characters to banter with but also glimpses of human emotion that Hodge’s character literally cannot bear to acknowledge. As clients recount their husband’s abuses, he squirms uncomfortably as he tries to ignore the parallels with his long-suffering cold fish wife and his countless naive mistresses.
Although Hodge is hilarious as he stomps around the stage like a teenager with an unexpected surge of energy, gesticulating wildly and addressing the audience like a stand-up comic, he is equally as devastating when his nerves begin to unravel and a quieter, slower, broken Bill is revealed for a powerful conclusion.