The depths of human cruelty are explored in Philip Ridley’s provocative drama about a boy who just doesn’t want to grow up. But more Dorian Gray than Peter Pan, The Fastest Clock In The Universe is not for the faint hearted as reckless desire and obsessive vanity lead to a shocking conclusion.
Set above an abandoned fur factory in London’s East End, a dilapidated loft filled with stuffed birds and antique ornaments houses the extraordinary Cougar Glass and his seemingly not so anonymous benefactor Captain Tock. It is the night of Cougar’s 19th birthday party – an event which has taken place annually long past his actual teenage years – and the Captain has dutifully organised the perfect party, with vodka, a white iced cake and a very sharp knife taking prize place on the kitchen table.
With just one guest invited, Cougar’s plan to intoxicate and seduce his new and fleeting object of desire, schoolboy Foxtrot Darling, quickly falls apart with the arrival of Foxtrot’s pregnant fiancée Sherbet Gravel. Sherbet has a Mary Poppins on crack character, a handbag full of tricks and a raspy Essex accent that seems to cut into Cougar’s cold exterior like the knife that helps bring the party to its sudden, hideous end.
Dressed in a leather jacket, white t-shirt, jeans and aviators, Cougar is undoubtedly channelling James Dean, though his utter disregard for others and obsessive desire for youth creates a far more demonic being. Sitting in sinister silence for much of the play, the characters fawn around him with unjustified admiration, desperate for his approval and love, except the feisty Sherbet, whose outwardly sweet nature is tainted by her subtle references to violence and use of grotesque imagery.
It is the Captain who offers the biggest insight into the despicable Cougar. Dressed in a three piece suit and acting as a cross between nagging wife and frustrated father, his unrequited love for Cougar is at times heartbreaking, as Cougar emotionally manipulates and knowingly tortures him, at one point making him wear gloves to touch in him.
With a Miss Havisham-esque landlady dressed in a fur coat made by her dead husband, twisted humour and a set where the perspective of the room and sloping floors are dizzying, The Fastest Clock In The Universe is a surreal and provocative drama where nothing is quite as it should be and normal behaviour is thrown out the window.