Candy at the Park Theatre review: inconclusive and insubstantial - Alan Bennett has a lot to answer for

Michael Waller in Candy at the Park Theatre  (Ali Wright)
Michael Waller in Candy at the Park Theatre (Ali Wright)

I blame Alan Bennett. The success of his Talking Heads monologues, which bestowed depth and dignity on apparently ordinary lives, convinced countless lesser talents to have a crack at soliloquies for everyday folk.

This inconclusive and insubstantial 60-minute addition to the genre by debut playwright Tim Fraser sees straight, beer-swilling Northern lad Will (Michael Waller) fall in love with his best mate’s drag queen persona. He knows in his heart that sultry, blonde, blue-eyed singer Candy is really Billy, the pasty lad he sat next to at school, and who reinvented himself in London. But Will’s brain and other parts of his body can’t compute the information.

He begins to obsess about Candy, to dream about her, to imagine touching her, you know, down there. (I seriously hope the producers rethink their decision to put individual tubes of Love Heart sweets on each seat, as two audiences members noisily unwrapped them while Will imagined unwrapping his own Candy on opening night.)

As he meanders unproductively around the subject it becomes clear the impossible romance is just a MacGuffin and the real subject is Will’s loneliness. His dad abandoned his mum when he was 12, and she now spends evenings endlessly rewatching romcoms with her aunt, known as Toadface.

Will used to work in a pub and get hammered and angry every night, but now holds down a tedious job in a car insurance firm and thinks his female boss fancies him. His friends sound, to adopt one of his favoured terms, like wankers. A tragic event leads Will to a confession and self-realisation. That’s it: the end.

I kept wondering if there was more going on here than I realised. Were Billy and Will the same person, and Candy representative of Will’s unexpressed desires? Is Fraser saying something profound about sexuality or gender? No. It really is just a thin story about a bloke who falls for a fantasy and winds up miserable. Nico Rao Pimparé’s direction is unnoticeable.

Waller, thankfully, is easy enough company. Personable, confiding and initially cheerful, he roams among the audience in a studio space kitted out like a pub cabaret, glitter curtains on the walls and tables dotted about. He’s an able performer but there’s nothing for him to latch on to here, no real story, no great theme, no development.

Waller is a co-founder of Reboot, which has produced various iterations of Candy in the last five years. He seems only to have acted in this and other shorts that Reboot has staged. According to the programme, he is also a respiratory doctor specialising in cystic fibrosis. I really, really hope he doesn’t give up his day job.

At least he had a full and friendly audience at the Park last night. Once, I was the only person in the 350-seat Arts Theatre for a monologue about a downtrodden Welsh woman who has sex with the actor playing Mickey Mouse at Disneyland then contracts terminal cancer. Like I say, Alan Bennett has a lot to answer for.

Park Theatre, to September 9;