The Man is one of those plays that you walk into not really knowing what to expect. Joy abounds, therefore, upon discovering a beautifully characterised slice of London life that drags you from laughter to sorrow within an exceedingly short space of time.
Ben Edwards lives a stressful life. He has to fill in his tax return for the first time and is visibly unable to cope with it. The mere thought of it breaks him out in a sweat, his muscles tense and he shakes with fear. He calls the tax helpline and ends up in a series of silly conversations with one of their advisers, gradually getting to know her as he works his way through the form.
The audience hold receipts signifying moments in Ben's life, meaning that the order of how we get to know Ben changes nightly. While this isn't a life-changing play, when your receipt is picked and Ben (played on this occasion by Samuel Barnett) looks into your eyes to tell you this story, it is all too easy to forget this is acting.
Barnett is a wonderful actor, able to hit both the comic and dramatic notes with ease. He is a sympathetic actor, able to squeeze every emotional point out of the material without overplaying either the script or his own performance. Lizzy Watts, while slightly frustratingly disembodied, did well as the patient Lisa, guiding tentative Ben through his issues.
Playwright James Graham, who also wrote the Bush's The Whisky Taster, also starring Barnett, is clearly a keen observer of human life, able to mould experience into words beautifully. The conclusion is annoyingly short and frustrating, but otherwise this really is a little gem amidst the dross often seen in fringe theatre.
Finally, would a HMRC representative be quite so open and friendly in real life? I suspect not. But that's another question for another day.