Sunday, June 4, 2017

It's not the character's problem - Royalty Theatre - Review

It's Not The Character's Problem
Royalty Theatre
2nd June 2017

Written and performed by Jordan Carling

I have seen a fair few one man (and one woman) shows over the last couple of years. It's a form of theatre that I increasingly love. They are invariably performed in small venues, and not necessarily to capacity audiences. Although, it has to be said, depending on the particular venue even a capacity audience can be pretty intimate.

There is something very special about being in a small space, listening to what are essentially very personal experiences. The shows take many forms - some have a lot of props to create atmosphere or context. They tend to follow a similar pattern in terms of theme - the meaning of life - or death - the nature of love, hate, indifference. They deal with some heavy subjects, and they usually do it with a fair amount of humour - often self deprecating - as the protagonist takes us on their journey of discovery. They are conversational, questions are posed, answers are invited, the audience is drawn in.

It's Not The Character's Problem we are told is a hard story tell, and may be a hard story to hear. It's Jordan's story. It is very personal. For this reason, I think, after the initial introduction - with some very sobering statistics about male suicide rates - he switches from first person, to third person. He tells Jordan's story almost like a case study, thereby distancing himself from it, and at the same time illustrating perfectly the isolation he creates for himself. In order to cope with unwelcome, negative feelings, Jordan removes them from his life - he banishes them to the wall of switches and turns them off. He builds a fortress around himself so that he doesn't have to deal with any of them, thinking that this makes him a man. Cold, dispassionate, ruled by his head not his heart. And it works fine (sort of) until a cataclysmic event leads him to finally realise that feelings, even the painful ones, are necessary to be able to fully experience life.

The show deals with a difficult subject and themes. It is a journey of self discovery. It is Jordan's journey, as he explores the way men are conditioned to respond to the emotional demands of life. How are men supposed to react to the events that life throws at them? How, in fact, has Jordan reacted to these? Not too well to begin with, as it turns out.

In this respect, this show is pretty much like others that I have seen. However it is also quite different. This is a very serious piece of story telling. There is humour - but the humour is used sparingly, with pinpoint accuracy it punctuates the narrative, providing a moment of welcome relief and preventing it from becoming too difficult to bear.
The dispassionate, third person narration means that when finally emotion begins to break through, it is all the more telling; the anger is more shocking, the grief more poignant.

"It's not the character's problem" is performed very simply with minimal props, and almost no staging - a chair, some papers, a spotlight and a white screen. Nothing is projected onto the screen, it is just there. Jordan sits throughout, reading from the papers and discarding the pages one at a time, until the story is almost done. The only action is the representation of the heart monitor in the hospital room, he draws the line in the air with his finger and taps out the heartbeat on his chest. This is an incredibly moving moment, followed by a literal thirty second pause, until the realisation that the heart has stopped. I find myself counting off the seconds. On the count of 30 Jordan resumes the story and brings it to slowly to its conclusion.

Finally an image appears on the screen.  A dedication to his father.

This must be a hard story to tell. It is a hard story to hear, but for an hour the audience's attention is held, and we listen and we feel.

"It's not the character's problem"  showed for one night only to an almost capacity crowd in the studio at the Royalty. It has also been staged at Northern Stage and the Customs House. I would hope it gets an airing in other venues, it's a story worth telling and a story worth hearing.



  1. I went through school with JORDAN CARLING. and I know he was talented then and he enjoyed performing. But I was shocked when I saw his show and it was beautifully performed and written... can't praise the guy enough and I hope he has a long and prosperous career ahead of him within the performing arts industry

    1. Hi Dean, it's great when someone you know does something amazing, isn't it? Thanks for taking the time to comment, it's great to let people know that we have been amazed by them too. Denise