The mutated dolls scattered around the Trafalgar Studio 2’s tiny stage – limbs in eyes, spiders adorning their heads like twisted eight-legged hats – suggest the man in the centre of the room is in a dark place.
But then, the pump-action shotgun pointed into his mouth is also a pretty fair indication.
This is how the audience meets Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain (Shaun Evans) in Roy Smiles’s imagined tale about the night the unhappy voice of a disenfranchised generation took his own life.
Alone in this claustrophobic room with only his metallic friend for company, he is joined by a companion resembling his own idol Sid Vicious (Danny Dyer). But Vicious, bassist of the Sex Pistols, died years ago of an overdose. So who is this pretender?
Smiles’s play explores just that, while also delving into the mind of a misunderstood musical genius on the brink of death, trying to understand what drove him to such drastic measures; the pressure, the press intrusion, the misunderstanding of his music, becoming a poster boy for the very people he was trying to rebel against. Vicious is one of the few people who could empathise with Cobain’s plight, but he is not shy of putting him firmly and hilariously in his place.
Cobain’s depression is clear from Evans’s shuffling performance, his quiet introversion balanced by the confident, brash, skulking, magnetic Vicious delivered by Dyer. Yet amid the depression and the anger flowing on stage sits a script packed with witty banter and quick sarcasm, from both characters. Asked for the central message of the grunge culture which grew up around Cobain, the doomed musician answers: “Leave me alone, I’m tired”.
Ultimately, of course, audience members with a rough grasp of recent music history know that Kurt And Sid’s ending is not going to be a happy one, leaving the show feeling a little like a version of A Christmas Carol where the visits of the spirits, though illuminating and intriguing, make absolutely no difference to a deeply bitter Scrooge.